Gov. Tim Walz said he will relax social distancing restrictions put in place to slow the spread of coronavirus.
His new measure, dubbed “stay safe Minnesota,” will mean some businesses can reopen their doors and there will be fewer restrictions on Minnesotans' movements during the public health crisis.
But it’s not a full reopening of the state.
What does Walz’s new order say?
The governor’s new measure means he will 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 Minneotans 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. And large gatherings of more than 10 people are still not permitted.
What businesses are going to reopen as a result of the new 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?
Under new guidance from the administration, bars and restaurants can start serving customers outdoors on June 1 with social distancing measures in place. State officials are encouraging local governments to get creative with zoning requirements to allow for more outdoor dining.
The new guidelines cap outdoor seating at a restaurant at 50 people and requires employees to wear masks. Patrons must make a reservation in advance and parties are limited to four people, or six people if everyone in the group is part of one family.
Bars and restaurants can still serve delivery and take out food orders, and the Legislature and governor have relaxed rules that allow them to serve some beer and wine with food orders.
Can I go to the hair salon or the movies yet?
Businesses such as hair salons and barber shops can also open to in-person services starting June 1, but they can only operate at 25% capacity, and employees must wear masks and other protective equipment when working with a customer.
Movie theaters, concert venues and similar locations are still closed to the public.
What about outdoor sports, recreation and summer camps?
The governor said the Department of Natural Resources is still working on guidance to see if summer camps and youth sports can resume in the summer, but those are still largely restricted under the order. The order does allow for “outdoor tournaments, competitions, practices, and sports that allow for social distance” and do not require groups of more than 10 people.
Any update on school closures?
Public K-12 schools across the state are closed under a separate executive order for the remainder of the academic year, and that hasn’t changed. He hasn’t made a decision yet on what will happen with fall classes.
Are churches and other houses of worship open to the public yet?
After extensive negotiations with faith leaders, Walz issued an executive order allowing funeral homes, wedding venues, churches and and other houses of worship to reopen starting May 27. Services are capped at 250 individuals and there must be 6 feet of physical distancing between households, under the new order.
Can I start planning my camping trip?
Starting on June 1, the state is allowing public and private campgrounds to reopen, but officials said there will be new social distancing guidelines and sanitation requirements for common areas in campgrounds.
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.
Is everyone in absolute agreement with this order?
Reactions to the new order were mixed. Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, said the order is “moving in the right direction. “This is really good news. I’m glad that he listened to us and I feel like we lead the way. 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.”
But in a statement, the Minnesota Nurses Association expressed reservations about lifting some social distancing restrictions “at a time when hospitals continue to dangerously ration PPE, new supply lines have not appeared in state warehouses.”
What does Walz say?
The governor has stressed repeatedly that social distancing measures were put in place to give the state enough time to build hospital capacity and stock up on ventilators and other supplies to protect healthcare workers. He said the state has “used this time wisely.”
“Minnesota is staying steady in hospitalizations. With the capacity we’ve built while you’ve stayed home, we can chart a new path forward,” he said. “We believe we will be able to handle an increase in cases as more people move out and about.”
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.”