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Who and what is and isn’t covered by Minnesota’s new ‘stay-at-home’ order

What Minnesota’s stay-at-home order restricts (and doesn’t) — and how it will be enforced. 

Under Minnesota’s new ‘stay-at-home’ directive, you can exercise outside while following social distancing guidelines in your neighborhood or at a local park.
Under Minnesota’s new ‘stay-at-home’ directive, you can exercise outside while following social distancing guidelines in your neighborhood or at a local park.
MinnPost photo by Craig Lassig

Gov. Tim Walz has ordered people to stay home for two weeks starting late Friday night unless they need or provide basic services like food and medical help. 

The edict represents Minnesota’s biggest effort yet to constrain the COVID-19 pandemic and health officials say it will help prevent hospitals and intensive care units from being overwhelmed by sick patients.

Walz’s directive locks down many aspects of public life and could put nearly 30 percent of Minnesotans out of work, though it still allows a raft of workers to stay on the job if they’re deemed “essential.” That includes people employed at utility companies, child care facilities and gas stations. It also lets Minnesotans access basic needs at places like grocery stores, hospitals, pharmacies and hardware stores. You can also exercise outside while following social distancing guidelines in your neighborhood or at a local park. The new order is less stringent than similar ones in other states.

“I’m asking you to buckle it up for a few more weeks here,” Walz said in a televised address on Wednesday.

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Here’s what Minnesota’s stay-at-home order restricts (and doesn’t) — and how it will be enforced:

How long will the stay-at-home order last?

The state order begins at 11:59 p.m. on Friday and lasts until 5 p.m. Friday, April 10. It’s the first step in a three-part effort to limit the spread of COVID-19 and allow hospitals to get materials and resources, such as ventilators for patients, needed to fight the disease.

Once the order expires, however, the dining rooms at bars and restaurants will remain closed until May 1, as will other businesses that had been shuttered due to the coronavirus before the latest directive.

What counts as an essential business?

While Walz’s order will close offices for a huge swath of Minnesota, many workers deemed essential may still report to their jobs. Broadly, essential jobs include:

  • Health care workers
  • Law enforcement and first responders
  • Emergency shelters
  • Child care facilities
  • Grocery stores, take-out restaurant service, farmers and other agriculture workers
  • News organizations
  • Power, gas and water services
  • Wastewater treatment and other sanitation or public works
  • Critical manufacturing, such as iron ore mining
  • Transportation and logistics
  • Construction and some trades, such as electricians, plumbers and elevator technicians
  • Financial services, including workers at banks

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More exhaustive information can be found in the 28-page document itself

Who is not essential?

In-house dining and entertainment at places like theaters, clubs and stadiums are not considered essential services, though those businesses are already closed.

More than 164,000 people have applied for unemployment insurance since the COVID-19 crisis began, said Steve Grove, commissioner of the state Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED).

Grove said his agency estimates 78 percent of the jobs in Minnesota are in critical industries as defined by Walz’s executive order. Grove estimated 28 percent of people in Minnesota will be “temporarily jobless” in Minnesota during the two-week period, and 59 percent of people not working will have access to some kind of paid leave.

In the Minneapolis metro area, a study by the real-estate website Commercial Cafe says about 48 percent of workers fit general essential guidelines, and it estimated more than 1 million workers would need to stay home or work from home. But Grove said Minnesota’s definition of essential industries is more expansive than the federal one.

A list published by DEED categorizes what industries are considered not essential in more detail. Some examples of businesses currently deemed nonessential a determination that could change are nonmetallic mining operations, fabric mills, printing companies, auto dealers, furniture stores, lawn and garden supply stores, shoe stores, jewelry stores, florists and general office administrative or advertising services.

Grove said businesses and workers who aren’t sure if they’re considered essential can seek further guidance on the DEED website.

What should I do if I get laid off?

Many workers can apply for unemployment insurance at the Minnesota Unemployment Insurance Program website. The state has taken several steps to expand the program to cover more workers affected by the economic disruption of COVID-19. 

The unemployment program generally covers half your weekly salary, up to a maximum of $740, for 26 weeks. Congress appears poised to increase that benefit, lengthen the time you can receive it and expand the number of people who are eligible to include contractors, gig workers like Uber drivers, and others.

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The state wants people to apply online for unemployment benefits rather than call in to save the phone lines for those without internet access or who aren’t English speakers.

Grove noted some employers are hiring, like the state Department of Corrections, grocery stores and Walmart.

Can I leave my house?

If you are not an essential worker, the governor said you are not barred from leaving your house altogether. You can still go out to get medical help or care for others, pick up medications, and buy other needed things like gasoline, home-office supplies and even booze. You can leave your residence if you feel unsafe, such as if you’re at risk of domestic violence. Getting your car fixed, bringing a pet to the vet, donating blood or visiting a laundromat or dry cleaner is also allowed.

Still, Walz’s order bans indoor gatherings such as house parties or visiting people who don’t live in your home.

What about going outside?

You are free to go outdoors as long as you follow federal guidance to stay 6 feet away from people who don’t live with you. The executive order says walking, hiking, running, biking, hunting and fishing are still allowed. State parks remain open, though with some limitations on services. 

“Be smart about this, don’t congregate together,” Walz said. “But if you can get out and social distance and walk, that’s a good thing.”

How will this be enforced?

Walz’s executive order says people who willfully violate the rules would by guilty of a misdemeanor that carries a maximum fine of $1,000 or up to 90 days in prison. Still, Walz told reporters he is focused on educating people to stay home rather than arresting people or using law enforcement to keep them from gathering.

“I know this requires voluntary social compliance to a large part,” Walz said.