Owners of restaurants, bars and other businesses are sighing a (masked) breath of relief this week as COVID-19 restrictions loosen, allowing for limited indoor dining, after an intense surge of cases in November and December prompted the

But this comes as after a week where cases in the state and regions slowly crept up, likely the result of holiday gatherings, fellow DNT reporter Andee Erickson reported last week.

Business owners, let me know what you're seeing. What's customer traffic look like compared to after the last shutdown? How many employees are you calling back to work?

Health care jobs are growing

More than a quarter of all jobs in Northeastern Minnesota are in health care and social assistance, the largest share of any sector.

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That's according to the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development's CareerForce program, which is crunching numbers all January in honor of Health Care Month.

As DEED pointed out in a news release last week, health care jobs are growing in the region.

"Up until the coronavirus pandemic, health care employment grew 5.1% in the past five years in Northeast Minnesota, and growth is expected to continue at an even greater rate of 11.2% through 2028," DEED said.

Foot traffic to stores down 63%

If you've been going to brick-and-mortar stores less often in the pandemic, you're not alone.

According to store marketing firm Zenreach, foot traffic to traditional retail establishments was just 36% of 2019 levels.

As I've mentioned in past columns, online sales have increased heavily during the pandemic.

And don't count on 2021 to be much better for physical stores — at least not yet.

"With lockdowns continuing and COVID vaccinations moving slower than hoped for, the outlook for the early part of 2021 compared to 2020 looks like more of the same," Zenreach said in a news release Monday.

Small businesses expect 6 months or more until normal operations

On that note of a challenging early 2021, 45.6% of U.S. small businesses say it will take more than 6 months before their business operations return to normal, according to a survey conducted Dec. 28 to Jan. 3 by the U.S. Census Bureau.

In Minnesota, the expectation that businesses will be back to normal after six months is 42.2%.

In the meantime, fingers crossed the vaccine distribution will speed up and accelerate the return to normalcy.

Jimmy Lovrien covers energy and mining for the Duluth News Tribune. Contact him at 218-723-5332 or jlovrien@duluthnews.com.