ST. PAUL — Minnesota’s stay at home order will lapse Sunday, but some restrictions will remain in place as the state continues its effort to stave off the coronavirus.
Gov. Tim Walz on Wednesday, May 13, announced he would not extend the state’s stay at home order but said directives limiting certain business sectors and social gatherings would remain in place beyond Sunday, May 17. The governor also announced that he would extend the state’s peacetime emergency, freeing him up to issue additional executive actions to address COVID-19.
In a brief video address, Walz said he planned to keep schools, restaurants, bars, salons, gyms and theaters closed but would allow customer-facing retailers and other businesses that had been deemed "nonessential" to reopen at 50% capacity beginning Monday.
And the state would issue guidance allowing Minnesotans to gather in groups of 10 or fewer with adequate social distancing. Outlines for how gyms, salons, bowling alleys, restaurants and other businesses could come online could be issued in early June, he said.
The update came hours after the Minnesota Department of Health reported that in total, 638 had died from the illness and its complications, 24 more than a day prior. The state also noted for the first time that nine reported deaths were likely COVID-19 related but they did not record COVID-19 test results for those individuals.
The state has reported that 122,035 Minnesotans have been tested for the illness and 12,917 had been confirmed positive for COVID-19, up 431 from a day prior. And 494 were hospitalized Wednesday, with 199 in intensive care. Another 8,787 had been allowed to exit isolation after becoming sick with COVID-19.
State epidemiologists on Wednesday shared updated models that showed social distancing and disease mitigation efforts had a lesser impact on the number of Minnesotans sickened with COVID-19 than initially projected. And while keeping the stay at home order in place longer reduced the projected deaths in the state, Walz said it was unsustainable economically and to Minnesotans' mental health to keep the order in place for months.
Walz in March initiated the order requiring Minnesotans to stay home with exceptions for critical services, work or errands with the goal of building up personal protective equipment, ventilators and hospital bed capacity to take in the sick. That capacity has been built up, state metrics indicate, and the state can now begin “turning the dials” in terms of allowing additional economic and social interactions, Walz said.
"We know there is no stopping the storm of COVID-19 from hitting Minnesota. But we have prepared for it," Walz said. "We can make this turn of the dial and keep people safe if we can trust each other to be cautious."
Those at greater health risk should continue sheltering at home, Walz said. And the orders could be reimposed if health indicators show Minnesotans aren't taking steps to stay close to home, social distance or otherwise prevent the spread of the illness.
"We must keep this virus at a simmer and not a boil," he said.
Workers concerned about returning to unsafe environments would receive protections under a new executive order, Walz said, and they would also be protected against loss of income if they refused to return to work in unsafe or unhealthy settings. Workers' unions applauded the move.
Minnesotans for two months have lived under the stay at home order and in recent weeks, business owners had begun pushing back against the order, which they said favored larger box stores. Other business owners and church leaders sued the state, alleging the order violates their constitutional rights.
Doug Loon, president of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, said the announcement was "welcome news" for businesses that had been waiting to come back online.
“Those who have not yet opened their physical doors have been taking responsible steps to design safe work environments and inspire consumer confidence," Loon said in a news release. "We’re thankful that they will now have that opportunity.”
And Republican lawmakers at the state and federal level asked the DFL governor to allow more businesses to reopen, with some pressing forward with policies and partisan measures aimed at constraining his ability to extend the peacetime emergency moving forward. Some voiced support for the move and urged Minnesotans to take seriously precautionary measures.
“We’re moving in the right direction,” Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, said. “Now it’s up to us, you and me, that we practice safe distancing. I have every confidence we’re going to be able to do it. Minnesota is back on track.”
Wisconsin earlier this week reopened its businesses with new restrictions and neighboring Iowa, North Dakota and South Dakota in the last week began reopening stores, restaurants, bars and salons after temporary closures.
While there has been little federal guidance on how states should reopen after lifting shelter in place orders, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, on Tuesday warned against states too quickly reopening after stay at home orders lapsed and causing surges in new cases, hospitalizations and deaths because of the illness.
The Minnesota Nurses Association raised concerns about rolling back the stay at home order and potentially increasing the number of Minnesotans that require hospitalization when nurses and other health care workers had limited personal protective equipment, which they rationed.
"Nurses also hope to reopen Minnesota businesses as soon as possible, but, just as many other Minnesotans have expressed, it’s not possible to do so without jeopardizing the safety of healthcare workers and all Minnesotans," Mary C. Turner, the association's president said.
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Minnesota Department of Health COVID-19 website: Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) website.