Gov. Tim Walz said Wednesday he would allow his stay-at-home order to expire Sunday night, allowing retail to resume starting Monday at half capacity, as well as allowing gatherings of 10 people or fewer.
The first-term DFL governor opted to keep larger businesses like gyms and movie theaters closed for the time being. Bars, restaurants and salons may start reopening with some restrictions starting June 1, with the state unveiling a plan on how to do so safely by May 20.
As expected, Walz also announced the extension of a peacetime emergency, a declaration that allows him to enact other restrictions should infection rates spike.
The lifting of the stay-at-home order effectively leaves it to Minnesotans to comply with the spirit of the executive order, which strongly recommends the use of face masks to help limit the spread of COVID-19.
Walz’s move just days before the scheduled May 18 adjournment of the Legislature comes amid increasing political pressure to restore the state to normalcy. Republicans have been attacking Walz for what they say are unfair restrictions on small businesses while large retailers like Target remain open.
Walz said he is leaning on Minnesotans to consider one another as he moved toward easing restrictions that have kept many Minnesotans away from friends and family, forcing the cancellations or postponements of graduations, weddings and other milestones.
”It has never been more important for you to look out for your neighbor,” Walz said. “We must keep this virus at a simmer, not a boil.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has so far claimed 638 lives in Minnesota, but state officials have been able to build up Minnesota’s critical-care capacity, as well as its stock of personal protective equipment, Walz said.
“We believe we will be able to handle more cases,” he said.
Walz’s address came on the heels of the latest University of Minnesota and Minnesota Health Department model that projects a range of 16,000 to 44,000 potential deaths in Minnesota over a year-long span. Health officials forecast 1,700 deaths by the end of May. The current COVID-19 death toll stands at 638.
Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, praised Walz’s decision.
“We’re moving in the right direction,” Gazelka said in a video statement. “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 on the right track.”
Walz also continued to urge vulnerable people — particularly the elderly and those with underlying health conditions — to consider staying home, saying the death toll has shown these groups are most likely to succumb to complications from the virus.
“All Minnesotans owe a duty of care to each other,” House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, said in a statement. “We have a responsibility to be considerate of each other and do the things that are smart and proven to reduce transmission of this deadly disease.”
Under the executive order, malls will be allowed to reopen starting Monday, but must have plans to ensure customers socially distance in common areas. Weddings would also be allowed, but with attendance limited to 10.
Private and public campgrounds will remain closed, but remote camping in areas like Minnesota’s vaunted Boundary Waters will be allowed. Outdoor recreational activities will also be limited by household, the order says.
Walz also signed an executive order protecting workers who complain about feeling unsafe at work, banning retaliation or discrimination by employers if workers take measures to safeguard their health like wearing gloves or a mask.