Restaurants and bars in Minneapolis must close all but their takeout, delivery or drive-through service starting Tuesday afternoon after Mayor Jacob Frey declared a public health emergency over the coronavirus outbreak.
The move will dramatically change daily life in the state’s largest city as Minnesota begins to see its first evidence of the community spread of COVID-19. It also adds another level of stress for small business owners, many of whom were already struggling to balance their own finances against the community’s well-being.
“I could tell you that it was a hard decision but the truth is, it wasn’t. It was just the right thing to do,” Frey said. “We are trying to reduce transmission as much as possible. Having hordes of people in a confined space, be it a Saturday night out or St. Patrick’s Day, doesn’t make sense.”
Also on Monday, Hennepin County said it’s closing services where it interacts with customers, including its 41 libraries, human service centers and licensing service centers. They will remain closed through April 6. It said it’s looking at ways to serve people without person-to-person contact.
Starting at noon Tuesday, Minneapolis will limit access to bars, restaurants and coffee shops within the city. “Operations will be limited to delivery, takeout and drive-through orders,” Frey’s office said in a statement.
Small businesses in Minneapolis were already scrambling to change their business models in the days before the local emergency was declared, said Corinne Horowitz, state director of Main Street Alliance of Minnesota, which represents about 100 small businesses in the city. Many of those are bars and restaurants that have already closed temporarily, she said.
Some restaurants switched to providing curbside pickup. At least one closed because its insurance didn’t cover loss from viruses, Horowitz said.
Now, the question is whether businesses which closed their doors temporarily will be able to reopen them after the worst of the virus has passed, said Horowitz.
“If they haven’t already closed and are already laying off their employees, they’re going to. Most of them already have,” Horowitz said. “Without these small businesses, Minneapolis is going to look a lot different at the other end of this.”
She said she hoped the declaration of emergency would mean the city would invest in the small businesses, whether through cash assistance, rent assistance, grants or waiving of licensing fees.
Frey said city leaders are discussing ways to support small businesses and any affected workers and hope to have updates in the coming days. The mayor’s office estimates there are nearly 30,000 bar and restaurant workers in Minneapolis.
Frey’s decision to declare an emergency came one day after St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter declared an emergency in the Capital City.
In addition to the business closures, Minneapolis also will stop issuing permits for gatherings of 50 or more people, citing guidance from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The city had already issued permits for some events with 50 or more people between now and May 15. Of those, all but three have already canceled on their own, according to Mychal Vlatkovich, a spokesman for Frey. Of those three, two are in the process of postponing and one is deciding how to proceed because the event is still two months away, Vlatkovich said.
The move also allows the city to speed up the process for purchasing protective gear for first-responders, who are likely to encounter people with COVID-19. Those types of contracts must generally go through a public approval process that can take weeks or months.
The emergency begins Monday, but the declaration needs City Council approval to last more than 72 hours. Frey is asking that the declaration remain in place as long as Minnesota continues its similar emergency declaration.
The City Council scheduled a special meeting for Thursday to discuss the issue.
“This is an extraordinary time and it will take collaboration, commitment, resilience and creativity from all of us working together to support the health and well-being of city employees, residents, visitors and businesses in Minneapolis,” Council President Lisa Bender said in a statement.
Frey also sent a letter to Hennepin County Sheriff David Hutchinson, urging him to “explore all options for delaying evictions.”
Last week, the city announced that it would temporarily stop shutting off people’s water for lack of payment, as part of an effort to encourage people to wash their hands and limit the virus’ spread.
The city shuts off the water to about 150 properties each month because of a lack of payment, according to city spokeswoman Sarah McKenzie. She said people who had their water shut off before the announcement can contact the utility’s billing office and ask to have their water services restored.