Minnesota bars and restaurants are again, finally, open for business after Gov. Tim Walz last week announced a loosening of restrictions he put in place late last year to mitigate the spread of coronavirus.

Starting earlier this week – Monday, Jan. 11 – those establishments can allow up to 50% capacity, with a maximum of up to 150 people. Groups are limited to six people and social distancing standards will be in place.

The decision ends the governor’s so-called “pause” on in-house service at those establishments and others. Notably, the governor also is allowing up to 25% capacity at bowling alleys, theaters and other indoor entertainment-type venues.

Thank you, Gov. Walz, for allowing these establishments to finally get back to something that resembles business normalcy. The decision may have come just in time, as many bars and restaurants may be on the verge of permanent closure amid the stifling coronavirus restrictions. For some, it’s probably too late.

Yes, some sort of restrictions have been needed. The coronavirus continues to quickly spread throughout the U.S., and places like Minnesota and North Dakota certainly are not immune to the pandemic.

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There were 13 COVID-related deaths in Minnesota on Tuesday, raising the death toll to 5,724. More than 438,000 cases have been confirmed in the state. In North Dakota, there were three COVID-related deaths Tuesday, 1,195 deaths overall and 95,000 positive cases. In both states, many of the deaths have occurred in group home settings. The overall numbers are now trending downward.

Those last two points – a downward trend and specific COVID data that shows group home settings have been at the root of many deaths – are why a change was needed in Walz’s belief that bars and restaurants must be closed entirely to in-person service. It just doesn’t make sense to force bars, restaurants and other service and entertainment businesses to shut down when other businesses – specifically retail stores – are allowed to remain open. Especially as numbers show that the majority of the most serious cases aren’t occurring in business settings.

And, as we have said before, take-out service alone cannot sustain a restaurant in the long run. The problem is compounded in communities along the North Dakota border, where hungry Minnesotans can simply cross the line and eat in North Dakota’s restaurants, which have been allowed to remain open, albeit with limited capacity.

Going forward, it’s our hope that Minnesota businesses take seriously the expectations that customers must be socially distanced, that staff will wear masks and that all COVID-related precautions will be followed. Please, keep everyone distanced and remember the little things. For instance, stop having customers use the same pen to sign their receipt.

Walz was right to order restrictions, but wrong to levy such harsh limitations on bars and restaurants in his state – and especially to extend the original order, as he did in December.

Now, the hospitality businesses in Minnesota communities like East Grand Forks, Oslo and so many others at least have a fighting chance.

Our suggestion?

Mask up, head out and enjoy supper and a drink at one of these places in the near future. They could use the business.