ST. PAUL — Gov. Tim Walz on Wednesday night announced more Minnesota businesses would be allowed to reopen Monday, May 18, and the state's stay-at-home order would lift.
Under newer, more relaxed executive orders, Minnesotans will be able to shop in more stores, malls and other vendors open at half capacity and will be able to gather in groups of 10 or fewer for family gatherings, church ceremonies, or other purposes. But for at least two more weeks, dine-in restaurants, bars, salons, gyms and theaters would remain closed.
Walz said the state would offer guidelines on May 20 for how those businesses would be able to come back online with a goal of getting them back up and running as early as June 1. He offered a warning that if Minnesotans failed to heed warnings about wearing masks in public, failing to social distance and keeping older adults and other vulnerable individuals in safe settings, additional restrictions could be put back in place to contain the spread of COVID-19.
“It’s going to depend on how well Minnesotans are going to be able to do this," Walz told reporters. "Not wearing a mask is not a sign of rebellion, it's just hurting your neighbor."
The governor acknowledged that the new guidelines were a bit of a gamble as the state continued to see reported cases and deaths associated with COVID-19 tick up in Minnesota. Federal guidance for reopening calls for a falling off in new cases, ample testing and tracing ability and substantial testing capacity for health care workers.
In recent days, testing capacity has grown to the 5,000-a-day mark Walz set weeks ago to provide a broader picture of how widely spread the illness was in Minnesota and state health officials are growing their ranks of contact tracers to track the spread of the disease. They hope to convince lawmakers to approve funding for about 4,000 contact tracers, a nearly tenfold increase from where they stood at the beginning of this week.
Over the last 50 days, the state stockpiled personal protective equipment, hospital and intensive care capacity as well as ventilators. Health care workers Wednesday still raised concerns about personal protective equipment not getting out to nurses and others on the front lines who were rationing.
While Minnesota's move to reopen was not made entirely under the federal guidelines, Walz said state officials in the last week felt comfortable about beginning to slowly remove restrictions.
"It became apparent that you’re trying to weigh whether staying in and building up a little bit more is worth it compared to the damage it does economically, psychologically, and other health issues,” Walz told WCCO Radio on Thursday morning.
Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said health officials would closely track new reported cases coming in and the rates at which cases doubled to determine whether restrictions on additional business sectors and social gatherings could be lifted.
"We have to keep our eye on these things and not be afraid to take another look and to move the dial back down if we need to cool the temperature," Malcolm said.
The latest set of executive orders extend Minnesota's peacetime emergency, allow the stay-at-home order to lapse Sunday, request that older Minnesotans and those with health vulnerabilities remain home if possible. Separate orders allow various businesses to reopen with new health and safety protocols in place and protections adjusted for workers.
As the stay-at-home order lifts, Minnesotans will no longer be subject to citation for nonessential travel but the executive order encourages Minnesotans to stay close to home. Those who congregate in groups larger than 10 or violate business guidelines outlined in the executive order could face fines and jail time. Walz on Wednesday said he doesn't plan to ask law enforcement officials to penalize offenders but hopes they can educate them about the directives.
Here's a look at what's on the way Monday and what could be coming next for Minnesota reopenings.
What could open as early as Monday?
Retail stores, malls and other businesses that had been deemed nonessential under the stay-at-home order could reopen as early as Monday at 50% capacity as long as they comply with state health and labor guidance.
Each has to have posted guidance about its efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and protect customers, where appropriate. And workers returning to work in these settings should be trained on new protocols.
The new orders opened up single household overnight camping at dispersed, rather than developed campsites, outdoor tournaments, competitions, practices and sports that provide for social distancing and 10 or fewer participants and guided fishing, birding or other outdoor activities, including fitness courses, with no more than two participants per guide. Driving schools would also be covered under new guidance.
Walz issued a separate order offering protection for workers who don't want to return to unsafe or unhealthy settings and barring employers from discriminating against employees who choose to wear masks or other personal protective equipment.
Which could be in the next category to open as early as June 1?
Walz said businesses like bars, restaurants and salons where customers interact closely with one another for an extended period or with a stylist or business owner would be the next round of settings to get additional guidance about reopening. But those settings posed a different level of health concerns as they could more easily spread COVID-19, he said.
Guidance for starting to reopen those settings was slated to come out May 20, Walz said.
What is farther down the line?
The state will issue guidance next month about whether courses at the University of Minnesota will take place in-person in the fall, Walz told WCCO Radio Thursday. And as health officials try to get a sense of how the disease affects children and young people, they'll write guidelines for summer camps and children's activities, as well as in-person K-12 classes coming back online.
"We are very much looking for more data on kids and their role in the transmission and also their susceptibility to the disease," Malcolm said.
Meals and child care services through Minnesota schools would likely continue, Walz said. And Walz on Thursday issued an executive order allowing schools to decide on their own whether summer courses would be delivered through distance learning, in-person instruction or both.
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