Gov. Tim Walz is asking Minnesotans to stay at home unless absolutely necessary in order to slow the spread of coronavirus in the state. 

The “stay-at-home” order is his most dramatic executive action yet, asking Minnesotans to partake in a form of extreme social distancing as the virus spreads to a growing number of people in the state and hospitals prepare for more patients. 

But it’s far from a total lockdown of the state.

What does Walz’s new order say? 

On Wednesday, the governor issued an executive order that asks Minnesotans to stay home except for essential needs and services starting at 11:59 p.m. on Friday, March 27 until at least April 10,  with more limited social distancing plans to follow with a focus on people at greatest risk of COVID-19 complications — mostly people who are elderly or have underlying health conditions. 

What are considered essential needs and services?

The order still allows people to leave the house for things like groceries, gas, emergency medical services or supplies, caring for family members, friends or pets and moving between emergency shelters for those who are homeless. 

And people who work in “critical sectors” are exempt from the stay at home order, including health care workers, emergency responders, law enforcement, shelters, child care facilities, food production, utilities, the news media and critical manufacturing. Other workplaces are asked to shift to a telework and work from home model under the order. 

What else will stay open? 

Walz has also ordered hardware stores, post offices, convenience stores, funeral homes, pharmacies, banks and food shelves to stay open during the stay-at-home order. The state Legislature is also open under the order, but state legislators have already restricted access and moved to an on-call basis to pass emergency legislation. 

Are residents allowed to go outside?

Yes, the order still allows people to get outside for “walking, hiking, running, biking, hunting, or fishing,” but with the appropriate social distancing, Walz said. 

What about liquor stores?

Liquor stores have been allowed to stay open even under the latest executive action. 

Are there more restrictions for bars and restaurants?

Bars and restaurants in Minnesota are already closed to dine-in customers through at least May 1 under a separate executive order from the governor. Under the new order, restaurants can still serve delivery and take out. 

What about real estate and ongoing construction projects? 

The order considers most real estate and construction jobs essential, so it won’t fundamentally change the way housing in the Twin Cities is bought, sold, built and rented. But already, the Minnesota Realtors put a hold on open houses by asking agents not to host them and by asking the state’s largest listing organization to turn off the function that allows agents to post notice of an open house.

“It’s not business as usual, it’s business as needed,” said Chris Galler, CEO of the Minnesota Realtors.

Any update on school closures? 

Public K-12 schools across the state are also closed under a separate executive order issued by the governor, which will be extended to May 4, with teachers starting distance learning plans. 

What about transportation like roads, transit and airports?

Roadways, public transit and the airport will still be up and running under the order for essential travel in and out of the state. People who are outside of the state are still able to return, under the order. 

How are these orders enforced?

So far, these orders in the U.S. haven’t come with strict enforcement. Enforcement has been more strict in European countries with similar orders, where residents can be fined if they are outside of their home for non-essential services.

A willful violation of the order in Minnesota comes with the penalties of a misdemeanor, punishable by up to 90 days in jail or up to $1,000 in fines. But Walz said law enforcement will be more focused on educating the public than writing tickets. 

“We don’t want them to be arrested, first and foremost, we want to educate people,” he said. “This requires voluntary social compliance for a large part.”

What do the experts say?

Experts say extreme social distancing measures have proven effective in places like China, where officials shut down Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak, in January. That helped them isolate the virus in a few areas and focus their resources on the areas that needed it most.

“It’s clear that social distancing measures are the most effective thing we can do early on,” said Ryan Demmer, an associate professor in the epidemiology and community health division of the University of Minnesota’s School of Public Health.  “So anything we can do to increase that has potential value.”

Is everyone in absolute agreement with this order?

No. Some leading state Republicans have raised doubts about the order and its impact on the state’s economy. Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, said he had “grave concerns” about Walz’s latest action. “I share the Governor’s concerns about the safety and well-being of all Minnesotans,” Gazelka said in a statement Wednesday. “I also have grave concerns about the Governor’s statewide stay-at-home order, and the consequences for the families of Minnesota when their jobs and businesses that provide their livelihood are lost.”

What is the governor trying to accomplish?

“The attempt here is to strike the proper balance,” Walz said, “to make sure the economy can function, we protect the most vulnerable, we slow the rate [of infection] to buy us time to build out our capacity to deal with this.”