Gov. Tim Walz has ordered Minnesotans to stay home until May 4, extending his restrictions on public life by more than three weeks in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Trips for groceries, medical help and other essential services are still allowed — as they were in the initial order that was set to expire on Friday. But the clamp-down on business that has driven more than 367,000 people to apply for unemployment benefits will remain in place.
State health officials say Minnesota’s social distancing rules have successfully prevented COVID-19 from overwhelming the health care system. Minnesota has among the fewest deaths of any state. Yet Walz said Wednesday that hospitals are still building up supplies of protective equipment, ventilators and intensive care beds that are critical to handling any spike in coronavirus cases.
“We cannot rest easy,” Walz said, speaking from the State Emergency Operations Center in St. Paul. “This thing can explode overnight if you don’t take the proper precautions.”
Walz said his decision was based on updated state modeling, trouble getting masks and ventilators, as well as federal guidance encouraging social distancing practices until May 1. With continued social distancing, the peak of COVID-19 cases is expected to come in July, Walz said. If Minnesota were to ease restrictions some, that peak “would come rushing back at us.”
The governor has made some changes to his restrictions. For one, Walz asked state officials to develop short-term plans to help some businesses reopen with best social distancing practices. But he said the state needs to sustain its efforts. “It could all go sideways very quickly if we don’t continue,” Walz said.
Here’s what we know about the order:
How long will the stay-at-home order last?
The state order was originally set to expire Friday at 5 p.m., but the new order will go into effect Wednesday at 11:59 p.m. and will last until Sunday, May 3 at 11:59 p.m. An earlier order closing bars and dining rooms at restaurants that would have expired May 1 was also extended until May 4.
What counts as an essential business?
Walz’s list of essential workers may expand as the state adds exemptions to the stay-home order. But, broadly, essential jobs and services still 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
Further guidance can be found on the state’s website.
What has changed since the last order?
Walz asked his agency commissioners to develop plans to help some industries reopen while following health guidance to prevent the spread of disease. Walz said Minnesota has learned more about how the disease spreads and believes his administration can be more “scalpel-like” in how it approaches who can stay open and who cannot.
The governor said they have also clarified some essential basic operations of businesses that may continue, such as going into an office to manage inventory. Restrictions on lawn care, landscaping, agricultural equipment repair, garden centers and florists selling perishable plants were also loosened. Walz said businesses can mow golf courses if they adhere to social distancing rules.
The order also explicitly allows funeral services with 10 or fewer attendees if people follow CDC guidance on social distancing “to the maximum extent possible.”
How will this be enforced?
Walz has repeatedly said he wants to avoid using law enforcement to issue citations or intervene to force people to comply with his state at home order. The state has leaned on a strategy of educating people and hoping they voluntarily follow the rules. Violating the order for most people is considered a misdemeanor that carries a punishment of either 90 days in jail or a fine of up to $1,000.
The latest executive order creates new penalties, however. Business owners, managers and supervisors who require or encourage employees to violate the rules face a gross misdemeanor that carries a maximum penalty of $3,000 or one year in prison.
The order also allows the state Attorney General, as well as city and county attorneys, to take civil action against people or businesses who violate the order. Such a penalty could carry a $25,000 penalty.
Attorney General Keith Ellison said he would use his office’s “full enforcement power” to ensure that businesses not exempted from the stay-home order will comply. “Continuing to stay home is how we care for each other,” Ellison said in a statement.
How are other state leaders responding?
House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said, “It’s encouraging that Governor Walz has granted flexibility for several types of businesses, and that plans are being developed for more.”
“We hope as this stay-at-home order continues, the governor will continue evaluating requests and allow businesses to reopen if they can do so safely,” Daudt said. “The sooner we can let more Minnesotans safely return to work, the sooner we can start stabilizing our economy.”
Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, said the eased restrictions on some businesses is “welcome news, even as the stay-at-home order is extended.”
House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, said the Walz administration has “done an excellent job following the data and making strong decisions to protect Minnesotans.”
Can I still go outside?
Outdoor exercise is still allowed and encouraged, though state leaders are asking people to avoid gathering in groups and to use parks or outdoor spaces close to your home. “We’re encouraging people to get out, stay healthy,” Walz said. “But don’t drive up north and overrun Mille Lacs.”
You can also leave your house to get food, including take-out, alcohol, gasoline, work-from-home supplies, materials to make masks and other protective equipment, and products needed to maintain safety, sanitation and the general operation of your house, bike, vehicle, or business. Laundromats and dry cleaners remain open.
Leaving your home to care for family members, friends, or pets is also allowed.