Gov. Tim Walz has extended his stay-home order until May 18 in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19.
While most of the limits on public life will remain, the governor said nonessential retail businesses can start offering curbside pickup and delivery services for customers.
The revised order comes as deaths continue to rise in Minnesota. Now 343 people have died in Minnesota from COVID-19, and the state reported 24 new deaths on Wednesday alone.
Walz said the state can’t expect to eliminate coronavirus, and only hopes to slow its spread until hospitals can build capacity to handle any surge in patients and the state can provide widespread testing to track the disease and isolate the sick. Along the way, he expects the state will slowly build “herd immunity.”
State officials hope they will soon be able to test every Minnesotan who has symptoms of COVID-19, though the state does not yet have the capacity to do that.
Here’s what we know about the order:
How long will it last?
Instead of expiring May 4, the stay-home order will continue until May 18. Until then, people generally can travel only for essential needs, such as trips for groceries, gasoline, health care, outdoor recreation and helping care for family and friends. Restrictions on in-house dining and drinking at bars remain.
What’s the rationale for extending the order?
Walz said the state has made great strides to secure personal protective equipment and create capacity for intensive care beds to handle any surge of COVID-19 patients.
Minnesota currently has 1,244 ICU beds and could create more than a thousand more in a 72-hour timeframe, for a total of 2,587, according to the state’s COVID-19 preparedness dashboard. It has a current inventory of 1 million face masks, 85,000 face shields, 7.3 million non-latex gloves, 49,000 gowns and 331,000 N95 respirators. More of each of those items is on order.
“I would not put people out there and open up the way we’re opening up some of these things if I believed the risk factor was too high,” Walz said. “I do believe the work that we’ve done does have the capacity for us to be able to deal with this.”
Still, Walz said more could be done, and it “appears like Minnesota is climbing the curve” by adding more infections. The explosion of cases in Nobles County, centered around the JBS pork plant in Worthington, is one example of a situation making the governor cautious.
The state wants to continue adding critical care capacity, like ICU beds and ventilators and be able to test all Minnesotans with symptoms. He did not give specific benchmarks for when the state will have met those goals.
“Those who are saying that we should just open up all businesses tomorrow because this thing’s not that serious and we overreacted — they are wrong,” Walz said. “Those who are saying we should open up as fast as we can because this is causing huge economic damage and we should figure out a way to do that, that is the safest possible way to do it — those people are right.”
What’s new about this order?
Over the last few weeks, the governor has allowed more businesses that were initially considered not essential to restart operations, including many manufacturers. This order allows nonessential retail businesses to offer curbside pickup and delivery services starting Monday. The state estimates the move could put 30,000 people back to work. (More than 584,000 people have applied for unemployment insurance since March 16.)
Going into those businesses will still be prohibited, and the governor advised people to not leave their car if possible while picking up goods. When delivering goods, businesses are supposed to leave them outside of people’s homes and not interact with customers.
While salons and barbershops can’t cut hair or provide in-person services, they can now sell products like other retail shops. More details can be found in the governor’s executive order.
If I’m a business, what do I need to do to operate?
It’s not mandatory for businesses to reopen, but if they choose to, they must develop a plan to safely operate and publicly post it. The state won’t review each plan to approve or deny it, but will reserve the right to see such plans if complaints come in about working conditions.
The Department of Employment and Economic Development has posted a template for these plans on its website, and the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce also issued extensive guidance on best practices for businesses.
They include training employees on handwashing and covering coughs and sneezes, cleaning and sanitizing surfaces frequently, switching to contact-free payment, staggering shifts and breaks, and checking the temperature of employees at the start of shifts. Target recently announced it will offer infrared, no-touch thermometers to businesses at cost.
The state is recommending that all workers and customers wear masks if possible.
What does this mean for workers?
The state has said those who are young and healthy with no underlying health conditions should generally return to work if their business does. Steve Grove, commissioner of the Department of Employment and Economic Development, said businesses should develop their safety plans in coordination with workers. But if dangerous situations arise, employees can call a hotline run by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to report it.
Walz said businesses that don’t operate well will also face a hit to reputation and risk sickening workers. “This is ‘Yelp’ on steroids, if you will, about which businesses are doing this right,” Walz said.
Bruce Nustad, president of the Minnesota Retailers Association, said while there may be some “bad actors,” businesses need to protect workers to keep stores operating. He said some companies may delay opening until they can get access to PPE or sanitizers.
What about restrictions on social gatherings?
The governor has used a metaphor of turning “dials” up and down for public life restrictions. And while he has turned up the dial on business operations, allowing more to operate, social gatherings are still locked down to the fullest extent.
Walz said he knows the limits are difficult for people to adhere to, especially as the weather turns warmer and events like weddings, funerals and graduations are altered or canceled. “It is 70 degrees on the last day of April, the trees are budding out, the flowers have come out, you would be at baseball games, track meets,” Walz said. “It has totally disrupted everything of where we’re at.”
But social distancing in these settings continue to be the state’s “strongest tool” to prevent the spread of disease, Walz said.
What comes next?
As the governor outlined his restrictions he also started plotting the future. He said some of his limits on public life could even be eased before May 18.
On the more immediate horizon could be opening up businesses for customers to go inside, allowing people to hold small family gatherings and opening places of worship. The governor is also considering allowing some elective surgeries soon, and said he wouldn’t stockpile protective equipment and prevent those procedures if they have enough.
“It’s my desire to turn that knob as quickly as we can,” Walz said of gatherings like weddings. “If it were today I would say no, we can’t do them today. Can we do them by the end of May or June? Potentially.”
The order gets a mixed reaction from state political leaders
Walz’s order was met with frustration by Republicans in the Minnesota Legislature. Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, a Republican from East Gull Lake, said the governor is “asking the right questions and looking at the right data.”
“But I’m disappointed he’s not turning the dial further today,” Gazelka added. “I think he should move further, and faster, opening businesses up again in Minnesota.”
Kurt Daudt, the House Minority Leader, said: “Every day that goes by risks the permanent closure of businesses that are staples in our communities. The governor and his administration should work with any industry that remains closed and offer a clear timeline when they can expect a decision.”
Peter Callaghan and Greta Kaul also contributed to this story.