Walz announces executive order allowing certain non-critical businesses to return

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During the state’s daily briefing on COVID-19 Thursday, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz announced an executive order that will allow certain non-critical businesses to return to work Monday.

This is one full week before the governor’s stay at home order ends on May 4th.

The order allows workers to return to industrial, manufacturing and office settings that are not customer-facing.

Walz said he believes this will allow 80,000 to 100,000 Minnesotans to return to work.

Bob Riegelman was asked to be at the governor’s announcement. Riegelman’s family has owned Riedell Skates in Red Wing for 75 years. He happened to be turkey hunting with his son at daybreak Thursday when the unexpected call came. The classic Minnesota company and its 90 workers can continue creating custom boots for ice and roller skates as soon as Monday.

"This means everything because as a manufacturer, you sell what you make and if you’re not able to make anything, there’s nothing to sell … if we weren’t able to open soon, we would’ve been in a bad spot," replied Riegelman.

Department of Employment and Economic Development Commissioner Steve Grove said conversations about how to go about reopening the state’s economy began the same day Walz issued the ‘stay at home order.’ Grove said since then, his department, the Department of Labor and Industry and the Department of Health have been in weekly discussions with business and labor leaders.

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"It’s been extremely helpful to get that input from all Minnesotans," Grove said. "All of this has led us to what the governor laid out earlier."

Grove said that the order is not requiring businesses to go back to work, but rather to do so if they choose to. Those who can continue to have their employees work via telework are encouraged to do so.

Businesses that are reopening will have to come up with a COVID-19 preparedness plan. Those plans must include provisions that allow for sick workers to remain at home, social distancing practices while at work and guidelines for cleaning and sanitizing of the business.

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Grove said businesses will not have to submit their plans to the state, but will have to provide it if requested.

"We really encourage businesses to work with employees on coming up with these plans," Grove said. "Not only are you going to get good ideas from your employees, but investing them in the process while building a plan for your workplace means they will understand it better."

All employers will also have to conduct health screenings of workers when they arrive at work.

"That health screening part of this is really critical," Grove said.

While the order allows a portion of the state to go back to work, Walz said there is a potential to reverse the order if there are developments that impact health care and other critical workers.

"Nothing we will do, we are guarded against this, will put (critical workers) at a greater risk," Walz said. "If it starts to do that because of the moves we’re making, we will dial that dial back. Because it is critical for us that they have the equipment and stay healthy to deliver what they need to deliver."

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Walz also spoke about his decision to keep schools closed through the remainder of the school year.

"There is no joy in this but there is a lot of thanks to those involved," Walz said.

During the briefing, Walz took the chance to speak directly to the class of 2020, who will have to forego graduations and other landmark occasions because of the move.

"This period of time, you will forever be the class of 2020, you will not be defined by staying home and missing prom and missing graduations," Walz said. "You will be defined by how interconnected our world is and by what it means to come together and solve hard problems."

Walz also thanked teachers who are continue working to find new and innovative ways to offer distance learning.

Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, the governor said state leaders were discussing how to address disparities in education. Walz said the pandemic has only exacerbated the disparities that are in place for people of color and rural communities.

Walz said conversations about how to offset those inequities will take place.

At this time, decisions regarding the 2020-2021 school year have not been made.

The Minnesota Department of Health on Thursday reported 221 new cases of COVID-19, bringing the state’s cumulative total to 2,942.
MDH also reported 21 more deaths from the virus. So far, 200 Minnesotans have died from COVID-19.

According to the Johns Hopkins Center for Systems Science and Engineering, the virus has infected about 2.6 million people worldwide and killed 183,559.

About 715,191 people have recovered from the virus.