Minnesota, Virginia join U.S. states easing COVID-19 restrictions

Restaurants serve customers outside as Phase One of reopening begins in Northern Virginia
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By Barbara Goldberg

(Reuters) - The governors of two more U.S. states said on Thursday they were lifting most restrictions that were put in place to combat the spread of the coronavirus after sharp drops in infection rates and deaths.

Both Minnesota Governor Tim Walz and Virginia Governor Ralph Northam unveiled plans for easing or even completely erasing limits, saying all changes were hinged on vaccination numbers going up, which has helped to diminish COVID-19 case numbers.

Northam said Virginia would lift all restrictions on June 15, except for a mask mandate.

"If our COVID case numbers keep trending down and our vaccination numbers keep going up, we plan to lift our mitigation measures, capacity restrictions and social distancing requirements," Northam told a news conference.

Walz unveiled a timeline to end all COVID-19 restrictions, saying limits on seating at entertainment venues, including outdoor stadiums, could be gone by Memorial Day weekend at the end of this month.

All limits will end by July 1, or sooner if 70% of Minnesota residents older than 16 get vaccinated, Walz said.

The increased freedoms in Minnesota and Virginia were disclosed just days after New York, New Jersey and Connecticut revealed on Monday that the tri-state area on May 19 would start lifting most coronavirus capacity restrictions on businesses, including retail stores, food services and gyms.

In sharing the good news, all of the governors stressed that a spike in COVID-19 cases could upend those plans. Infections have been declining in the United States as more people get vaccinated.

With 47,166 daily new infections reported on average, the United States is now 19% below a Jan 7 peak, according to data compiled by Reuters.

"Vaccines are working. They're helping reduce the spread of this disease," Northam said. "Fewer people e getting sick, fewer people are going into the hospital."

Virginia's face mask mandate was part of a state of emergency declared during the pandemic. It is due to expire on June 30, although Northam could extend it if there is a COVID-19 surge, officials said.

(Reporting by Barbara Goldberg in New York; Editing by Bill Berkrot)