In the face of alarming COVID-19 numbers and a short supply of hospital beds, Minnesota’s governor Tim Walz announced on Wednesday, November 18, that Minnesota’s restaurants and bars would again close for indoor and outdoor dining service. The newest pause in service begins at midnight on Saturday, November 21, and will last at least until December 18. Restaurants will return to takeout- and delivery-only service in the interim.
The governor’s announcement came with no assurance of federal or state relief plans for the industries affected, which besides restaurants and bars, includes youth and adult sports facilities and gyms. “To those small business owners, we need our federal partners to step up. We need Congress to provide those small business owners, especially in the hospitality industry, with the relief that they need,” Walz said.
This is the second mandatory statewide closure in Minnesota. The first came at the beginning of the pandemic in March: restaurants were closed for dining on March 17 through June 1, when outdoor dining was permitted. Dining room access was phased in on June 10 with dining rooms restricted to 50% capacity and dining parties limited to six people. Restaurants went to great lengths to create space between tables, some building plexiglass dividers. In anticipation of a long winter, and the end of patio season, restaurants installed heaters and even some igloos to allow diners to remain outside.
Returning to a takeout and delivery-only model will require restaurants to again lay off staff, including servers, bartenders, and back-of-house employees. Restaurant owners have said that the ability to sell cocktails to go, like their counterparts in Iowa, New York, and Chicago, would help recoup lost sales, but the governor has declined to make that executive order.
Minnesota’s coronavirus cases have grown exponentially in recent weeks, putting a strain on hospitals and testing facilities. Half the state is at 88% or more capacity of its critical care hospital beds. Minnesota currently has more than 238,000 COVID-19 cases, and those numbers are expected to reach 300,000 in a matter of weeks. During the press conference, Walz said it is critical that Minnesotans stay home whenever possible and to wear a mask.
Without decisive action from lawmakers to provide relief for restaurant owners — who, once again, have to shed a large percentage of their staff and see sales dwindle to an unsurvivable rate — many will not be able to return to business a second time. Meanwhile, restaurant workers are once again without work, in an industry where living paycheck to paycheck is commonplace.