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Walz orders bars and restaurants closed as part of latest effort to slow spread of COVID-19

Gov. Tim Walz
MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan
Gov. Tim Walz joined a batch of other state governors in ordering the closure of bars, restaurants and bowling alleys and other entertainment venues as of 5 p.m. Tuesday.

Another day at the Minnesota State Capitol and another major expansion of the interventions aimed at slowing the spread of new cases of COVID-19.

Gov. Tim Walz joined a batch of other state governors in ordering the closure of bars, restaurants, bowling alleys and other entertainment venues as of 5 p.m. Tuesday. Some of the new cases of positive tests have come from younger adults, making it important to extend the closures, especially on the eve of one of the biggest bars nights of the drinking calendar — St. Patrick’s Day.

The executive order covers restaurants, bars, coffeehouses, brewpubs, craft breweries and distilleries, theaters, museums, music venues, gyms and fitness centers, bowling alleys, country clubs and dining clubs. The order does allow businesses to continue takeout and delivery services. As of now, it ends March 27 but Walz and his Health Commissioner said it could be extended.

“The expectation is that these will be re-upped,” Walz said. “I don’t see a scenario anywhere in the world that this will not be extended.”

Walz said the new order was needed because there was still congregating in bars and restaurants that ignored health advice to keep social distance: staying six feet away from anyone else.

“We need people’s cooperation,” he said. “To the young folks who have been told it’s not that serious, it won’t get to you: Perhaps not for you, but that’s not a given because we have young people who found themselves needing hospitalization on this. We need to stop congregating.”

“I want to be very clear. We are at a critical point here,” Walz said. “If we get beyond that curve where community spread accelerates to the point where our hospitals can’t keep up … it becomes a really critical situation.”

Celebrity chef and restaurateur Andrew Zimmern
MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan
Celebrity chef and restaurateur Andrew Zimmern spoke on the effect COVID-19 will have on local restaurants, bars, and coffeehouses.

A second executive order will expand unemployment insurance by broadening eligibility, making payments more quickly and ending surcharges on employers. The state is adding hours for applications and encouraged those laid off by the public spaces closure order to apply at Among those who will be newly eligible: workers who must stay home to care for children whose schools or child-care centers have closed.

Walz acknowledged that his response to the crisis changes daily — he prefers the term “evolves” — as the state gets new information and advice from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “This is our new normal,” he said. “This is more than likely a rhythm that we may get into as new information comes up, as new CDC guidance changes in this unfolding situation.”

Legislature decides to recess

The latest executive order came just a few hours after the Minnesota Legislature outlined how they would mostly vacate the capital — after getting a few critical things done to respond to COVID-19.

Legislative leaders stressed that their evolving protocols for the 2020 session are anything but normal, with “uncharted territory” being the most-used phrase Monday. After passing some emergency legislation, the Legislature would go into an extended recess until April 14. That action moves up the start of the traditional Easter/Passover recess by more than two weeks.

The Legislature could reconvene before then at the call of House and Senate leaders, but it is likely it would do so only for additional emergency measures. Those could include additional economic actions to ease the impact of the virus on businesses and workers.

“It is our intention to bring the Legislature back to pass legislation if we need when all four leaders agree,” said House Speaker Melissa Hortman.

House Speaker Melissa Hortman
MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan
House Speaker Melissa Hortman
The Legislature will also monitor the governor’s use of the executive powers he asserted with his state of emergency declaration Friday.

Whether the House and Senate return on April 14 is subject to reassessment, legislative leaders said. “In light of what’s happening with the COVID-19 virus, it’s wise to limit the access to the capitol in the short term,” Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka said. “We’ll have plenty of time to conduct business before our constitutional adjournment on May 18, 2020.”

There will also be limits on large gatherings by the public at the Capitol. “People come here from every corner of the state, so I would imagine if there was a case of COVID-19 here it would be an epidemiologist’s nightmare to track down all of the people that person came in touch with,” said House Republican Leader Kurt Daudt.

But he said that if any official business is being done, there must be some public access to the process.

Both legislative bodies imposed new protocols for meetings. Lawmakers sat in every other desk on the House and Senate floors and used gallery space for those who couldn’t fit on the floor. The House had to have some members participate from a room outside the chambers.

And since both bodies use electronic voting machines, new methods of voting — including voice votes and even thumbs up or down — were imposed. If there is a floor debate and a member not given a seat on the floor wants to speak, he or she would need to change places with someone with a seat on the floor. Hortman said the person leaving the desk would then wipe it down before leaving.

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka
MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan
Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka
Legislative staffers who are not needed to work at the capitol are being asked to telecommute. “It is possible for us to continue our work and do it safely from this distance,” Hortman said. But she added normal committee schedules and floor sessions are not possible while also meeting federal and state health guidelines for social distancing, i.e. keeping six feet of space between people.

House and Senate members will be available to talk to constituents and other members of the public, though primarily via phone, online or by appointment, Gazelka said. The Senate office building will be closed to the public except by appointment, he said.

Still, there could be committee meetings and other work conducted during the hiatus.

“The work of the Legislature will continue,” Hortman said. “In some ways, this will be a more intensive period of work for us than a normal session. It would be wrong to consider this a recess because we are all still working.”

Lawmakers still need to do ‘mission-critical’ work

Hortman said legislation would be limited for the rest of the regular session — if there is a regular session before the constitutional end date of May 18. She said bills take up when they return will now fall into three “buckets:” COVID-19 response legislation; “mission-critical” work, such as the supplemental budget and the capital budget construction projects (aka bonding); and bills that have broad bipartisan agreement.

“We’ll have legislators focusing their efforts on these three buckets over the next few weeks.”

The first of the COVID-19 bills was an emergency appropriation to state hospitals. “Hospitals are a critical link in the care chain and they need additional funding to prepare for additional COVID cases,” said Gazelka.

Also Monday, groups and activists began putting in their requests for funding from the state to help respond to the impacts of the battle against the virus. The Minnesota Hospital Association will have access to $150 million in grants to cover costs related to treating COVID-19 patients. The Legislature also added another $50 to the public health emergency response fund that received $21 million in new funding just last week.

The money, contained in Senate File 4334, will allow for temporary sites or additional beds, isolation wards, staff overtime and training, equipment purchases such as ventilators, extra transport of patients, cleaning supplies and personal protective equipment for staff and patients. Eligible to receive grants are hospitals, clinics, long-term care providers as well as pharmacy and ambulance services.

Those accepting grants must agree to treat uninsured patients and to accept in-network payment for out-of-network patients. The bills passed both the House and Senate unanimously in the early morning Tuesday before both recessed to April 14, at least.

A coalition of housing advocates asked for a like amount for rental assistance under the Family Homeless Prevention and Assistance Program. In a letter to Walz and the four caucus leaders, the coalition said that  “$100 million will provide one month of FHPAP, at an estimated rate of $400 per month per household, for 250,000 families.”

State Rep. Mike Howard
State Rep. Mike Howard
Rep. Mike Howard, DFL-Richfield, introduced a bill with unspecified funding for that program plus a moratorium on evictions and late fees. Neither of those issues was handled prior to the legislative recess.

New economic outlook forecasts a recession

The state received an updated national forecast from its economic consultant that drastically changed the outlook, from no recession in the next several years to one starting in the second quarter of this year. According to the update, the economy will remain in recession through the end of 2020, and not starting to recover until the beginning of 2021.

It is unusual for the state’s consultant to update its forecasts in this way. The state was not set to update the February forecast until April 10. In the statement released Monday afternoon, the state office of Management and Budget described the economic situation as fluid, noting that “uncertainty is extraordinarily high about the size and duration of the negative impact on economic growth — partly because we do not yet know the effect of possible federal policy responses — but, a recession does appear likely.”

“This announcement confirms what we have suspected: deteriorating economic conditions caused by COVID-19 will stress Minnesota’s economy,” Walz said in a statement Monday.

Update: this story was updated to reflect passage of Senate File4334 on health care grants

Comments (20)

  1. Submitted by Bruce Pomerantz on 03/16/2020 - 08:17 pm.

    Staff at grocery stores and pharmacies should receive the equivalent of combat pay for serving the public because they involuntarily risk exposure. Stores that remain open should require payment by credit card to lessen the chance of cashiers touching contaminated currency.

  2. Submitted by Bob Barnes on 03/16/2020 - 08:33 pm.

    Talk about wiping out small businesses and the economy. Missing out on a big drinking holiday .. and forced to be closed for nearly 2 weeks??? Lots of wait staff etc are likely to lose their jobs when places close up for good. They are already down on revenue (by as much as 50% or more in some cases) now they’ll get no revenue at all for 11 days?

    They are going way overboard on this virus.. the economy is going to go into a depression over this kind of reaction.. count on it.. you heard it here first.

    • Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 03/17/2020 - 08:48 am.

      “you heard it here first”
      Really Bob? You give yourself way,way,way to much credit!

    • Submitted by Pat Terry on 03/17/2020 - 11:22 am.

      Are you serious? Even Trump seems to have figured this out.

    • Submitted by Scott Walters on 03/17/2020 - 11:49 am.

      Thank God our state is taking decisive action to save lives. It’s only unfortunate the Governor didn’t close everything two weeks ago. Unfortunately, there are enough people who lack a basic understanding of science and math to have made such a move a practical impossibility.

    • Submitted by Barry Peterson on 03/17/2020 - 02:46 pm.

      Bob, this is current life in China. While unfortunate, to the level of being a tragedy for some, these closures are necessary to combat wider problems, illnesses,and deaths.

      A friend of mine, Victor, is an engineer in China in Shenzhen, a city of 11 million with ony three deaths as of last Saturday.He is a team leader who is developing an automatic refueling system for robotic cars. He indicated that their experiments in the cars had to be put on hold because people are supposed to stay a meter away from one another. A meter is 3.38084 feet. Large businesses are issuing two face-masks per day for their employees. Their corporate shuttle services are allowing only a fraction of the number of riders they usually allow in the buses, and bars and restaurants have been closed since, I believe, early February. They are stemming the tide against this disease.

      People should also know that in the U.S., between October 1, 2019 and February 12, 2020, an estimated 12,000 to 30,000 people died of the common flu. This, I believe, is a typical figure. The flu, as well as the common cold, is also a coronavirus; COVID-19 is just another coronavirus which is taking its toll across the world.

      Nations and states, cities, and companies are shutting down in an effort to stem this virus. In the Ghanaian village of Ankaase (a village of 20,000), and its surrounding district, schools have been closed as of Monday, March 16, 2020. The village is home to my adoptive daughter and her family of five. They have two school-aged children who will be doing their homework at home. “Grandpa,” (me) ,is encouraging the children to read, do their math and draw to their hearts content. I have asked my son-in-law to tell my grandchildren that “Grandpa is very proud of you for doing all of your schoolwork! Good for you!” in their native language of Twi.

      So, Bob, please do not lament too heartily. While I see that the figures from the flu in the U.S. are apparently greater than the number of deaths from the new virus, we must take this seriously. I hope you understand.

    • Submitted by Robert McManus on 03/17/2020 - 05:53 pm.

      This loss of income applies to all freelance musicians as well. I’m one. I know. I have so many friends who have no income who have rent to pay and loans…etc…

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 03/17/2020 - 06:33 pm.

      “Overreaction” is something we know only in retrospect. Frankly, when you’re dealing with matters of public health, overreaction might be a good thing.

  3. Submitted by Frank Phelan on 03/17/2020 - 06:06 am.

    We’re fortunate to have a decisive leader in Gov. Walz. We’re much better off than if we had Jeff Johnson or Mark Dayton in charge.

    Most of the GOP governors are fiddling while Rome burns, even to the point of telling citizens to go out to restaurants with their kids.

    • Submitted by Barry Peterson on 03/17/2020 - 02:53 pm.

      Frank, I am a Democrat who was active in my senate district’s board of directors for ten years, and who has discussed the platform of the DFL during my trips to Europe and Central America. I am a volunteer on the Democratic National Committee’s (DNC) Midwestern District Disability Council.

      I object to you denigrating member of the GOP at the state legislature. If you have read elsewhere in the media, members of the GOP — both in Minnesota and at the federal level, have been coming around.

      We certainly do not need denigration at this point in time — especially in light of bi-partisan support of efforts to control this virus.

      • Submitted by Robert McManus on 03/17/2020 - 05:55 pm.

        But he makes a good point about Gov. Walz. I’m so glad that these are our leaders this state. He and his commissioners are doing an excellent job and create in me a feeling of confidence in them.

      • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 03/17/2020 - 06:21 pm.

        Jeff Johnson was a member of the Hennipen County Board of Commissioners who ran for governor in 2016. He is not a member of the MN Legislature. Thankfully he is not the governor.

      • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 03/22/2020 - 10:37 am.

        Barry, regarding your credentials as a Democrat: One of the biggest problems with the Democratic Party is the fact that so many moderate Republicans took over it’s leadership back in 80’s and 90’s. The “bipartisan” regime that flowed out of that takeover has produced decades of failed policy focused on comforting an elite status quo while a majority of constituents remained mired in multiple crisis. That regime must come to an end before it destroys us completely.

        In political terms the decision to transform the Democratic Party into a moderate Republican Party has strengthened and legitimize right wing extremism for decades eventually creating a scenario wherein a Fascist became a legitimate candidate and won a presidential election.

        I notice you have an impulse to jump to the defense of Republican’s when they are criticized, as if criticisms itself is toxic and unnecessary.

        First of all, if you’re impulse upon seeing Republicans criticized is to jump to the defense of Republicans… you’re probably a Republican, even if you’re a Democrat.

        Second, the emergence of Fascism in the US is an existential crises we dare not ignore or minimize. Responsible citizenship demands awareness and conscious recognition of threats to our society, liberties, and constitutions. If your impulse is to condemn and suppress that recognition you may want to examine that impulse and considering abandoning it.

        When elected officials or those they have promoted or appointed display dangerous, incompetent, or malevolent tendencies and behavior, it is incumbent upon us to note, and broadcast that dangerous and toxic behavior, we cannot excuse or ignore it. Enforced comity becomes an artificial shield behind which tyrants and their sympathizers will hide in times of crises… we make note of THAT as well.

        The fact that the Republican Party and many of it’s adherents has drifted into right wing extremism is a natural observation no honest intellect can ignore. These extremist have and are inflicting harm and suffering upon millions of Americans and aspire to harm millions more. The sheer incompetence of an anti-science, anti-morality, and anti-democratic regime cannot be ignored or accommodated by polite discourse. We will confront, recognize, and denounce this threat to our well being and our liberties whether some people like it or not.

      • Submitted by Pat Terry on 03/23/2020 - 04:25 pm.

        The gentleman doth protest too much, methinks.

  4. Submitted by Jerilyn Jackson on 03/17/2020 - 10:14 am.

    Anyone who is paying attention to what is happening in Italy, and what the potential is for what will happen here, knows that any effort to mitigate a wide spread virus is an effort to save the economy as well as lives.

    • Submitted by Connor OKeefe on 03/18/2020 - 07:40 am.

      It is crucial that people look beyond the headlines. We are not being told the whole story.

      “The average age of coronavirus patients who have died because of the virus in Italy is 81, according to the National Health Institute. Italy, which has one the world’s oldest populations, could be facing a higher mortality rate as a result of its above-average elderly population.”

      Worldwide, the average age of people who have died from this virus is 70. Most everyone below that age had a pre-existing condition (immunodeficiency, cardio-pulmonary or respiratory). These are the same populations the suffer most during any seasonal flu.

      • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 03/21/2020 - 11:08 am.

        Conner, I don’t see any special insight beyond the headlines in your. The fact that the elderly are a greater risk has been well documented and often reported feature of CORONA ever since it was first recognized. I would be surprised if anyone reading your comment isn’t already well aware of that fact.

        What you DO seem to be missing is the fact that this age group (70+) comprises almost 15% of our population, close to 50 million Americans. Even if they were the ONLY people that got sick and died from COVID-19 you’re looking at millions of potential deaths. Furthermore, the strain of millions of infected and sick seniors would likely collapse the capacity of our health care system, even if these were the only people in the world to get sick from COVID-19.

        Beyond THAT, what kind of morality would decide that senior life is less valuable or more dispensable than those in younger age groups?

  5. Submitted by Connor OKeefe on 03/17/2020 - 06:48 pm.

    Lefties like to say they are fact based and they love science.

    Well, the CDC says we should limit crowds to no more than 50 people. Many states have followed that advice, and have requested restaurants to accommodate it, which they can, and still stay in business.

    Did I miss the part where they said shut the economy down?

    And, I must say, the spectacle of a millionaire chef speaking on behalf of small time restaurant owners will not soon be forgotten.

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 03/21/2020 - 10:53 am.

      Connor, you don’t seem to understand the difference between biological and medical science and economic activity. Normal economic activity cannot proceed in the midst of a pandemic no matter how governments respond. However loss of life and human suffering that strains medical systems and devastates societies are dramatically effected by government responses. Anyone who thinks we can save the economy while millions sicken and die, is beyond ignorant and may well be a moral imbecile.

  6. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 03/21/2020 - 10:45 am.

    “Talk about wiping out small businesses and the economy. Missing out on a big drinking holiday .. and forced to be closed for nearly 2 weeks??? Lots of wait staff etc are likely to lose their jobs when places close up for good….”

    Am I the only one that feels like the mayor for “Jaws” just walked into the room?

    Conservative Democrats have been blocking liberal initiatives to establish labor practices and policies such as Medicare For All, universal paid sick leave, vacations, and living wages for decades. NOW all of the sudden they’re oh so worried about the service workers they’ve been ignoring for decades? Whatever.

    If you don’t understand the fact that a pandemic is slamming the economy, NOT the response to the pandemic… you really should just go watch some Netflix or something. This is a killer virus and we’re still on the front side of the curve. If you think we can maintain a normal economy while millions of people sicken and die and the health care system collapses under the weight of massive overload… you’re not an optimist, you’re just dangerously ignorant.

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