Coronavirus Daily Briefing: Walz, state leaders outline getting businesses reopened

Gov. Tim Walz speaks during a press conference on COVID-19 in Minnesota on Monday, May 4, 2020. Gov. Tim Walz speaks during a press conference on COVID-19 in Minnesota on Monday, May 4, 2020.

Josh Skluzacek & Beth McDonough
Updated: May 04, 2020 10:13 PM
Created: May 04, 2020 01:25 PM

Monday, Gov. Tim Walz and state leaders talked about the process of getting businesses reopened in a safe manner, which is still a work-in-progress.

A new group of businesses had the option to restart some of their business Monday, helping to put about 30,000 Minnesotans back to work. However, many more remain anxious to reopen.

Walz was asked about how many business owners are telling him to allow them to reopen right away and why he's not allowing them to do so. The governor said it isn't a trust issue and he believes most businesses can put the necessary safety and sanitation measures in place to operate, but said it only takes one business doing things incorrectly to create a massive hotspot and increase spread. He added that he and state leaders working as quickly as possible to allow businesses to reopen very soon.

One group pushing to open soon is the bar and restaurant industry. The governor wouldn't set a date for when and how that might happen, but he did say many options are under consideration.

"Some of the suggestions I've heard is (open) 25 percent (restaurant) capacity and I just asked does that make economic sense? You've got a higher overhead if you open up a whole business, you bring people in, you open up to 25 percent capacity. If that's the theory, does that make money? That's the type of thing we're kicking back and forth," the governor said.

The governor's decision to extend the 'stay at home' order until May 18 gets high marks from Minnesotans in the latest KSTP/SurveyUSA poll. Among 500 people surveyed, 76 percent agreed with that decision and only 20 percent disagreed. On the issue of bars and restaurants, 80 percent agree they should only be open for takeout and drive-thru service for now.

As for why they're not reopening rural, less-populated areas right away, Walz said they're looking into it, as are other states, but pointed to the difference in the number of cases in Nobles and Ramsey counties despite the large population difference. Some of that, Walz noted, is likely disproportionate testing but he said they want to make sure places in rural parts of the state don't have situations like Nobles County has had. He reiterated that the virus and situation in the state change very quickly

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In some good news, Walz mentioned elective surgeries will likely be allowed to resume in the coming days. The governor said each health care clinic will be given a good amount of latitude to decide what restrictions they want to put in place. He and Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) Commissioner Jan Malcolm both noted clinics are already being given the latitude to make decisions for things that are currently allowed, such as how many people to allow in a delivery room, to ensure hospital staff feels safe.

The KSTP/SurveyUSA poll shows 68 percent of Minnesotans agree those elective medical surgeries should resume soon.

Walz was joined Monday by Afro Deli CEO Abdi Kahin and Hospitality Minnesota President and CEO Liz Rammer. Hospitality Minnesota represents more than 2,000 businesses in the state, many of which are small, family-run businesses, Rammer said. On the current course, more than half of those businesses face a likely permanent closure in about two months, she added. She also said they know business owners are ready to reopen and to install new safety and sanitation measures to ensure the health of all employees and customers.

Rammer said she and others are working with Walz and state leaders to develop guidelines and ways for those businesses to reopen and get people back to work very soon without risking the health of others.

Kahin noted his business has seen many challenges since they've opened but said the pandemic has presented a whole new set of challenges. Through it all, the most important thing is the health and safety of Minnesotans and his employees, he said.

"The real challenge for business lies over the horizon," Walz said, noting that employees and customers have to have confidence that they'll be safe there. Walz and Rammer said that's the challenge they're trying to work through now with the goal of getting many more businesses reopened as soon as possible.

Still, it's going to take every Minnesotan to make sure the spread of COVID-19 doesn't spike as more businesses finally reopen.

"We continue to try to look for ways to safely turn the dial incrementally to open more business activity," Malcolm added. "But for this to work, we absolutely need Minnesotans to keep on focusing on those personal actions we can all take."

Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) Commissioner Steve Grove said his department is also working with businesses to determine what actions they can take to allow for them to safely reopen soon. He said DEED is looking for input from every Minnesotan. You can share your thoughts by submitting this survey to DEED.

"We have to be thinking longer term of how Minnesota's economy can bounce back from this and how we can be better," Grove said.

When asked about how much of a heads-up businesses will get before being allowed to reopen, Grove said those are the exact things they're talking about. He noted that some restaurants may take a week or two to restock while other businesses can be ready much quicker. Rammer also noted that it takes time to go over new guidelines being put in place and making sure everyone is on the same page.

"The worst thing that could happen is to give them a potential date and push it back," Walz said.

Employee concerns as businesses reopen

As many businesses reopen or prepare to reopen, hopefully, in the near future, some employees remain concerned about the idea of going back into the office while the pandemic continues.

Grove assured Minnesotans that they're working to find ways for every business to take measures to protect the health and safety of workers, but for those who still have concerns, there will be ways to help them.

Grove said they know there will be disagreements between businesses and workers about a worker's eligibility to come back to work, but they have a long-tested process of using adjudicators that they're confident in.

He also noted that if a parent has to stay home from work to take care of a child, they will still qualify for unemployment insurance, per Walz's earlier executive order, as will anyone at risk or with an underlying health condition and anyone who has been exposed or has a relative they take care of that's been exposed.

COVID-19 cases in Minnesota

MDH reported 571 new COVID-19 cases and nine new deaths, Monday, pushing the state's totals to 7,234 cases and 428 deaths. According to MDH, 4,212 patients no longer need to be isolated. However, the state reached a new high in number of patients in Intensive Care Units, Monday, with 166. Overall, a total of 1,271 cases have required hospitalization with 396 still hospitalized as of Monday. The department said, as of Monday, the state has completed 13,241 tests and private labs have completed 72,700 tests.

According to the Johns Hopkins Center for Systems Science and Engineering, the virus has infected about 3.5 million people worldwide and killed about 247,840. More than 1.1 million people worldwide have recovered as of Monday.

Ending on a high note

Walz ended his press conference with a bit of positivity, as he likes to do.

He thanked a band teacher and a retired band teacher who played the 'Minnesota Rouser' outside his home Sunday night. He said everybody needs positivity like that during these times.

Walz also thanked Minnesotans for their continued cooperation with social distancing and health guidelines.

"This is tough, this is painful, this is causing economic damage beyond anything any of us who are living now, unless we lived through the Great Depression, have seen, but I think the pieces are there for Minnesota to be resilient," Walz said.

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