As more than 10,000 Minnesotans have received the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, positive COVID-19 cases decrease, hospital beds open and children return to schools, Gov. Tim Walz has lit the yellow light for bars and restaurants.

Walz announced Jan. 6 that bars and restaurants are allowed to open with limited capacity and hours beginning Jan. 11.

In the order, indoor dining at bars and restaurants can open at 50% capacity, with a maximum of 150 people. Parties of no more than six people must remain 6 feet from other parties; bar seating is open to parties of two; reservations are required; and establishments must close dine-in service by 10 p.m.

Jitters Java Café in Sauk Centre has weathered both shutdowns by offering drive-thru, carry-out and delivery services.

When patrons came in Jan. 11 to find their seats, Tom Oschwald, the owner of Jitters, was glad to see them inside again.

“It’s wonderful being able to talk with people face-to-face again,” Oschwald said. “I am a little leery of it because of the coronavirus and the new strain out there, so I’m hoping we can stay safe and stay open.”

While Oschwald is looking forward to the increase in business as a result of resumed indoor traffic, the biggest and best part of the rolled-back restrictions is the ability to interact with people.

“We’re a service business, so I wouldn’t enjoy just having a drive-thru and delivery,” Oschwald said. “You need to be dealing with people at the table.”

For many of the people who come inside to dine, the reopened doors and available tables are comforting in the midst of otherwise crazy times.

“It feels great,” said Erin Schneider, a patron of Jitters. “It feels nice to be inside and get some normalcy back in our lives.”

Other activities affected with the order include: gyms, outdoor events, bowling alleys, movie theaters, museums, youth and adult organized sports, pools, wedding receptions, funeral ceremonies and places of worship.

In a press conference Jan. 6, Walz encouraged Minnesotans to protect the progress shutdowns have made as far as deterring the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“The situation in Minnesota is undeniably better than it was last month,” Walz said. “We have reasons to be optimistic, and Minnesotans’ sacrifice and commitment to their communities helped change the pandemic’s trajectory and saved lives. But we need to protect the progress we’ve made.”

The surge of cases affecting the Upper Midwest a couple months ago has since simmered but spread throughout the country. Walz urged Minnesotans to stay cognizant of the risk as he opened more activities and sectors of the economy. 

“As we cautiously adjust the dials to help Minnesotans return to important elements of their daily lives, we continue to monitor where we stand,” Walz said in a press conference. “Two months ago, the pandemic quickly snowballed from manageable to out of control. For our students, our small businesses and public health, we cannot allow that to happen again.”