Gov. Walz won’t extend ‘stay at home’ order, loosening some restrictions starting Monday

Wednesday evening, Gov. Tim Walz extended Minnesota’s peacetime emergency declaration and lifted the ‘stay at home’ order. However, some restrictions will remain in place.

The peacetime emergency was set to expire on Wednesday — it gives the governor power to issue executive orders and close businesses. It will now run until June 12. The ‘stay at home’ order had last been extended through Monday. However, some small businesses have already said they would defy the governor’s order if it’s extended again.

Walz announced the ‘stay at home’ order will be allowed to expire Monday and a new order that eases restrictions will take effect.

The order will allow people to go out and move freely without making an essential trip to places like a doctor’s appointment or a grocery store.

Walz said people will also be able to gather with others in small groups of up to 10 people, and some retail businesses, such as those in malls and main street businesses, will be allowed to reopen up to 50% capacity with some guidelines and plans in place. That will allow up to 37,000 more workers to return to work, according to the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED). DEED Commissioner Steve Grove directed those wondering if their businesses can reopen under the new order to check

However, some businesses that have been shuttered will remain under current restrictions. Walz said discussions on reopening those places soon will continue. Walz said he’s aiming for places like bars, restaurants, barber shops, salons and fitness centers to reopen on June 1, but nothing is official yet and those discussions will continue.

The governor called the situation fluid and said they’ll turn the dial back if necessary. He told Minnesotans, "We must keep this virus at a simmer rather than a boil."

"I am proud of how Minnesotans have stepped up for each other," Walz added, thanking people for both following the ‘stay at home’ order and also for going above and beyond to do things like make masks for front-line workers.

The governor urged Minnesotans to continue to wear masks when going out and to work from home, if possible. While restrictions are being eased, Walz asked people to not rush right back into things and be careless, but instead asked them to still be cautious, take care of yourself and others because the pandemic isn’t over yet. Those in the most vulnerable groups are still urged to stay home and take extra precautions.

"Minnesota is still in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic and we will be dealing with its impacts for many months," said Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm in a statement. "We’ve made encouraging progress on preparedness and on safeguarding our most vulnerable, and that work will continue. As Governor Walz adjusts the state’s response and guidance to meet current and future needs, we will continue to track the course of the pandemic and apply the many things we are learning about the virus and its risks. Our goal is to protect the most vulnerable Minnesotans while also learning how to live with this pandemic until a vaccine becomes widely available."

Walz also said he and health officials will follow three health indicators that could trigger a decision to re-impose restrictions:

  • Number of new COVID-19 cases,
  • Percent of COVID-19 tests that are positive,
  • Percent of COVID-19 cases for which the source of the infection is unknown.

"Minnesotans, thank you for your continued sacrifices," Walz said. "You have saved thousands of lives. You successfully pushed out the peak of this virus and bought our state time to get ready to treat those who fall ill. We know there’s no stopping the storm of COVID-19 from hitting Minnesota, but we have made great progress to prepare for it."

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, expressed support for Walz’s announcement.

"We’re moving in the right direction," Gazelka said in a video response. "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."

“All Minnesotans owe a duty of care to each other,” added House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park. “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. Minnesotans have trusted Governor Walz through this crisis and he has done an excellent job. Now he is putting his trust and his faith in the people of Minnesota. I hope Minnesotans show him that his trust was warranted. The Minnesota House of Representatives will continue to focus on legislation to provide Minnesotans with greater economy security during this pandemic.”

In speaking with reporters after his announcement, the governor answered some questions about the announcement, including:

  • Walz noted that the new modeling data unveiled earlier Wednesday was just one of the things they looked at in making the decision to ease more restrictions, including lifting the ‘stay at home’ order. He pointed out that the data shows the best method would’ve been to keep a ‘stay at home’ order in place until September, but he noted there are other factors that have to be taken into account.
  • As for why rural areas aren’t being allowed to reopen more quickly or have fewer restrictions, Walz pointed to Nobles and Stearns counties being some of the highest-impacted counties in the state. He added that while some rural counties don’t have many cases confirmed, they don’t test everyone and many cases are likey unconfirmed. That, combined with the fact that there aren’t as many ventilators and as much hospital capacity in rural areas puts them at risk for quicker outbreaks could quickly overwhelm the health care systems.
  • Walz also noted that some people, such as the Minnesota Nurses Association, won’t be in favor of easing more restrictions. The governor called it a fine line to walk and said while it’d be best to keep things closed down they have to take other things, such as the effect on businesses and the economy, into account. Walz added that they’ll still be closely watching for further outbreaks and the need to possibly dial things back, but noted the state has built up a good supply of personal protective equipment and supplies that gives them hope they’ll be able to keep things on "simmer" rather than a "fast boil."

The Republican-controlled Minnesota Senate passed legislation earlier this week that would allow more small businesses to open, although its chances for passing the DFL-led House of Representatives are slim.

Earlier, on the Senate floor, Republicans had expressed the frustration coming from many businesses that have been forced to cease operations.

"Whether are big money, big box or they’re little money, little box — that lack of fairness — everybody cares. Big box cares, little boxes cares, we all care," said Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake.

House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, has also vowed that his party would not let a $2.2 billion bonding bill pass the House unless the governor cedes his emergency powers. The bonding bill, which would borrow funds for infrastructure, education and fair housing packages, among others, has been a legislative priority for Walz this session.

The bill passed the House Ways and Means Committee earlier this week.

Meanwhile, DFLers argued that opening up businesses too soon would have dangerous long-term effects.

"The fact that we start this discussion with the assumption that one side is trying to create a reality that isn’t true, or the other side is trying to create a reality that isn’t true leads us to this point where we’re not able to have a real conversation about it," said Sen. Jason Isaacson, DFL-Shoreview.

The Legislature has the authority to force the end of the peacetime emergency, but it requires approval from both chambers. While the Republican-controlled Senate would likely approve a measure to end the peacetime emergency, it’s unlikely the DFL-controlled House would do so. It’s also unlikely the Executive Council would overrule Walz.

David Schultz, national expert on state constitutional law and professor at the University of Minnesota and Hamline University, said Minnesota is in uncharted territory, and that makes the legal side of the orders unclear.

“[Walz] has some authority to declare a peacetime emergency, but beyond that, not clear what all that authority is,” said Schultz. “How far he can continue to go with what he’s doing without having already treading on the law or breaking the law, that’s probably a matter for how the courts decide.”

Walz and state officials answered questions following Walz’s announcement Wednesday evening, which you can listen to in its entirety below.