Gov. Tim Walz on Thursday extended his stay-at-home order for another two weeks, leaving it mostly unchanged through May 17 but allowing some retail businesses to offer curbside pickup or delivery.
The extension allowing retailers to offer curbside pickup and delivery beginning Monday is expected to return roughly 30,000 Minnesotans back to work and underscores how Walz’s administration is trying to strike a balance between safety and the state’s economic well-being. Walz has frequently referred to it using a metaphor, saying Minnesota will be “turning the dial” toward reopening.
“We’ve got to live with this for a while, until we get those therapeutics and vaccines,” Walz said. “You cannot isolate people indefinitely until that happens, and Minnesotans have found the middle way. Again, it’s not that light switch. It’s not ‘everything opens tomorrow,’ and it’s not ‘everything is locked down.’”
Walz has pushed back on mounting calls from some Republicans and business owners in recent weeks to ease restrictions on businesses, saying on Thursday that re-opening too quickly could be “catastrophic.” Public health officials say a return to business-as-usual could lead to a deadly surge in illnesses.
“The governor is asking the right questions and looking at the right data, but I’m disappointed he’s not turning the dial further today. I think he should move further, and faster, opening businesses up again in Minnesota,” Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, said in a statement.
The original stay-at-home order, first issued in late March, had previously been extended and was set to expire on Monday. Bars, restaurants and other places of public accommodation will remain closed through at least May 17.
Employees and patrons need to prioritize safety by wearing masks and practicing social distancing, Walz said. If the state’s strategy of widespread testing and tracing possible infections works to contain the pandemic, next steps could include opening more businesses and allowing small family gatherings.
Additionally, the state’s ban on elective surgeries will be lifted in the next few days, Walz said. The prohibition was put in place in late March with the goal of preserving personal protective equipment for health care workers and ventilators. Walz said the state is coordinating with hospitals to ensure they can resume some surgeries while maintaining a reserve of supplies for a possible surge in COVID-19 cases, he said.
House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said in a statement that more small retailers should be allowed to open since “big box stores have been able to keep their doors open.”
“Every day that goes by risks the permanent closure of businesses that are staples in our communities. The governor and his administration should work with any industry that remains closed and offer a clear timeline when they can expect a decision,” Daudt said in the statement.
More than half a million Minnesotans have filed for unemployment benefits since mid-March, representing roughly 19% of the state’s workforce. A small-but-vocal movement to “reopen” Minnesota has grown in recent weeks, with at least three county boards in northern Minnesota approving resolutions calling for an end to the stay-at-home order and a group of small business owners filing a lawsuit arguing that Walz’s orders to close non-essential businesses are unconstitutional.
Walz and Steve Grove, commissioner of the Department of Employment and Economic Development, acknowledged the economic strain the pandemic and stay-at-home order have caused, especially for small businesses. Grove said it was “unfair” that small businesses had to pause their operations while big box stores remained open.
“When you have to pause your operations to keep the state safe, that’s devastatingly difficult, and we’re just very grateful that small businesses have been willing to do that,” Grove said.
Minnesota’s COVID-19 case count has topped 5,000, and 343 people have died. More than 70,200 Minnesotans have been tested since March, and testing ramped up in the past week under a joint effort with Mayo Clinic and the University of Minnesota to test up to 20,000 patients daily.