Since March, Gov. Tim Walz has issued sweeping executive orders to slow the spread of coronavirus in the state, from business and school closures to a statewide mask mandate required in public indoor spaces and businesses in Minnesota.
The governor has started to slowly ease restrictions on businesses, schools and Minnesotans' movements during the public health crisis, but he’s not yet ordered a full reopening of the state. (This FAQ was updated Nov. 18.)
What does Walz’s order say?
The governor let his stay-at-home order -- which went into effect on March 28 -- expire on May 18. That original order directed Minnesotans to stay home except for essential needs and services or if they worked in critical sectors.
So does that mean things will go back to the way they were before the pandemic?
No. Walz wants vulnerable Minnesotans to continue to stay at home and social distance to protect themselves from the virus. That includes those at-risk for severe illness, such as the elderly or individuals with underlying health conditions. Walz said private gatherings should be limited to one household only, indoors and outdoors.
Where are face coverings required?
They must be worn in indoor environments that are open to the public as well as businesses. That includes restaurants, bars, retail settings, public transportation, places of worship and polling places. Masks can temporarily be removed when necessary, such as eating or when you have to show your face for identification purposes.
Does that mean a mask is required everywhere?
No. The order does not mean you have to wear a mask at home, in your vehicle, at private social gatherings or outdoors. However, workers must wear a mask if they are doing their job outdoors and cannot social distance.
What qualifies as a face covering?
They can be a disposable mask, a cloth mask, a neck gaiter, a scarf, a bandanna or a religious face covering. They must cover the nose and mouth. But they should not be made of mesh or have openings, holes or visible gaps. Also, masks with vents or valves do not qualify as they can allow your unfiltered breath to escape.
Are some people exempt from wearing face coverings?
Yes, exceptions apply to those who have medical or health conditions, disabilities or mental health, developmental or behavioral needs that make it difficult to tolerate wearing a face covering. The state does not have a defined list of conditions that qualify for the exceptions.
What about children?
Children who are 2 to 5 years old are not required to wear a face covering, but they are encouraged to do so in public. Masks should not be used for kids who are younger than 2.
What are the requirements for businesses?
Businesses must enforce the mask requirement for their workers, customers and visitors. However, masks are not needed if they are unsafe on the job. Masks are not needed for workers who are alone or are in a cubicle with walls that are face height as long as social distancing is maintained.
So what happens if I don’t wear a face covering when it is required?
State officials say they hope that individuals and businesses will voluntarily comply with the order and that violators will most likely be asked, rather than forced, to comply. But the order does specify legal consequences. Individual violators can be cited with a petty misdemeanor and fined $100. Business owners can be charged with a misdemeanor, fined $1,000 or even jailed up to 90 days. Civil penalties can also be levied against businesses which can come with a fine of up to $25,000. Also, businesses that are regulated, such as bars and restaurants, may be subject to licensure actions.
What businesses are reopened as a result of Walz's order?
Many small businesses and retailers that were shuttered under the stay-at-home order will be allowed to open but there will be restrictions on operations, such as 50 percent of store capacity, and they’ll need to have measures in place for social distancing for employees and customers. This includes shopping malls, with some restrictions on common spaces. Walz still wants anyone who can work from home to do so.
What about restrictions for bars and restaurants?
Starting Saturday, Nov. 21, Walz ordered new restrictions for bars and restaurants, closing them to the public for service for four weeks to slow the spread of COVID-19 in the state. Bars and restaurants can still do takeout services during the closure period.
Can I go to the hair salon or the movies yet?
Businesses such as hair salons and barber shops remain essential services now, but they can only operate at 50% capacity, and employees must wear masks and other protective equipment when working with a customer. Customers must also be masked. Places such as movie theaters, bowling alleys, concert venues and fitness centers are part of the temporary, four-week closure ordered by Walz.
What about outdoor sports and recreation?
Organized Youth Sports organizations and programs must stop all in-person activities — including practices, group workouts, games, and tournaments — during a four-week pause announced by the governor.
Will there be in-classroom instruction for children?
The state’s policy is to encourage learning in the classroom because, apart from the instructional benefits, it helps children with personal and social development. However, the decision is left up to each school district in consultation with health and education officials. Schools can switch to distance learning or a combination of both in-person and online learning to keep students and staff safe from COVID-19.
How will school districts make those decisions?
One big factor will be the COVID-19 infection rate in each county. Using data compiled by the Minnesota Department of Health, the guidelines set out five scenarios depending on the infection rate over the previous two weeks, with classroom learning for the lowest rates and distance learning for the highest. In between will be hybrid models. These are guidelines, not mandates, and each district can take a different approach based on its unique circumstances. Schools must also take into consideration the physical layout of their buildings, including filtration systems. Read more on schools here.
Are churches and other houses of worship open to the public yet?
Houses of worship can open at 50% capacity.
How is this order enforced?
Anyone who "willfully" violates the order is guilty of a misdemeanor, punishable by up to 90 days in a jail or a fine of up to $1,000. Any business owner or manager who requires an employee to violate the order can be punished with a gross misdemeanor and a fine of up to $3,000 or one year imprisonment. Attorney General Keith Ellison and city and county attorneys can also seek civil penalties against businesses that violate the order.
What if employees returning to work don’t feel safe?
Walz is issuing a new executive order for employees returning to work that will protect them from discrimination or retaliation if they raise concerns about workplace safety.
Could restrictions come back at any point?
Yes, Walz noted that there are still unknowns about the virus and Minnesotans “must be prepared to dial back if needed.”