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Starting Jan. 4 lap swimmers can get back in Minnesota pools and high school swimming teams can begin practice in the water after action taken Wednesday by Gov. Tim Walz.

A five-member Minnesota Executive Council approved a new executive order signed by Walz earlier that reopens public pools that had been closed by executive order since Nov. 21. The governor had eased some restrictions last week to allow fitness centers to reopen with modifications but pools were not addressed at that time.

The order signed Wednesday allows "lap swim, lessons and organized sports" in pools provided they follow COVID-19 protocols. While masks are required in fitness centers, the new order exempts mask use while in the water.

"We're pleased that our swimmers will be able to begin training on Jan. 4 in the pool," said Bob Madison, Minnesota State High School League associate director.

Walz put a four-week pause on youth sports and indoor fitness centers to help address community spread of the virus that was behind a sharp rise in COVID cases causing strain on hospital ICU bed capacity.

The pause was set to expire last Saturday until the governor extended it for two more weeks while allowing fitness centers to reopen with restrictions.

While high school teams and other youth sports have been cleared to start practice on Jan. 4, officials are waiting for further guidance from the Minnesota Department of Health before determining when games will resume.

During a high school league meeting on Tuesday, officials discussed the possibility of starting the season with having masks required and not permitting fans at games.