DULUTH — A year ago, St. Patrick’s Day was the first holiday and one of the first traditional reasons for getting together with tons of others that was shut down in the name of slowing the spread of the coronavirus, which causes COVID-19.
This year, St. Patrick’s Day is the first holiday and one of the first public-gathering opportunities since Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz’s “sweeping plans for reopening businesses,” as Forum News Service reported March 12. That includes restaurants (hello, corned beef and soda bread!), bars (hello, green beer!) “and social gatherings.”
But Minnesotans shouldn’t take the announcement from St. Paul as a license to cut loose or to forget all about wearing face masks, washing hands, distancing, and all the other precautions and safeguards that have helped us survive the pandemic to this point. This welcome relaxing of rules isn’t a reason to party like it’s 2019. Even if it is St. Patrick’s Day.
This thing isn’t over yet, and, put simply, “Attending gatherings to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day increases your risk of getting and spreading COVID-19,” as the straight-talking Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, our guide and conscience throughout the pandemic, announced as part of guidelines for the holiday, released last week.
While it may sound like a bummer still, the reality is that, “The safest way to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day this year is to gather virtually, with people who live with you, or outside and at least 6 feet apart from others,” according to the CDC.
The agency even offered tips for making the holiday fun, despite the continued need for limitations: “Decorate your home in St. Patrick’s Day colors, shamrocks, and leprechauns. Celebrate by making Irish-inspired recipes. Have an outdoor neighborhood St. Patrick’s Day celebration with everyone at least 6 feet apart and wearing masks; (and) watch a virtual St. Patrick’s Day celebration.”
Bottom line: “If you plan to celebrate with others, outdoors is safer than indoors,” the CDC said.
In addition, even though today’s holiday isn’t traditionally travel-heavy, the CDC “continues to recommend postponing travel and staying home, as this is the best way to protect yourself and others this year.”
Our vigilance may be waning and growing more difficult. But it’s working and is needed just a bit longer. Case numbers, hospitalizations, and deaths from COVID-19 are flattening. And more needles are going into arms with vaccines every day.
As Walz said last week in a televised address, after a full year now of stay-at-home orders, limited gatherings, and other restrictions, "We’re beating this thing. We are going to win. And maybe today is not the end, but it sure is the beginning of the end. … We're turning the dial up to a point where normalcy is on the horizon."
To that end, Walz announced that bars and restaurants in Minnesota can increase their occupancy from 50% to 75%, with a cap of 250 people, and groups seated at the bar can have up to four people. That ought to help with St. Patrick’s Day revelry that’s both fun and safe.
For just one more St. Patrick’s Day, it’s on all of us to continue to act responsibly, to continue to take this deadly pandemic seriously.
The state acknowledges it is “increasing opportunities for interaction (and that) increases risk,” as Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said, but “basic prevention measures is the thing to let that progress continue."
It’s just like we’ve been doing for a full year now and just like we can — and need to — continuing doing for just a bit longer, until vaccinations are widespread enough to adequately reduce risk.
This other view is the opinion of the editorial board of our sister publication, the Duluth News Tribune.