Speaking at the state’s emergency operations center, Gov. Tim Walz on Wednesday extended his stay-at-home order through May 4 while easing earlier restrictions on the types of businesses that can remain open.
The governor’s previous order would have expired on Friday. His latest order expands the list of businesses deemed “essential” by the state. Walz said he’ll work with state leaders to “develop short-term plans to help more businesses reopen.” Businesses can qualify for exemptions if they can operate while still abiding by social distancing protocols, he said.
The governor’s latest executive order expands the list of essential businesses based on updated guidance from the federal government. Now, lawncare and landscapers are permitted to continue working, along with garden centers and nurseries, so long as they follow the state’s social distancing guidelines.
Companies can still request exemptions if they didn’t make it on the updated list of essential businesses.
While more businesses may be able to reopen under the latest order, Walz repeatedly emphasized that the state isn’t “out of the words” quite yet. His aim, he said, was to take a “much more scalpel-like” approach to restarting the state’s economy.
“I will not sacrifice the health of Minnesotans and the gains that we’ve made,” the governor said. “These hard-earned gains and sacrifices … can be lost virtually overnight if we don’t do this right.”
He pointed to places like New York and Louisiana, which have seen a massive uptick in Covid-19 cases over a short period of time.
After Walz issued the order, Minnesota Chamber president Doug Loon called on the legislature to delay payment deadlines for income and property taxes.
"This will give businesses the necessary cash to continue operations and provide for employees’ livelihood," he said in a statement. "The business community is committed to help mitigate the health risk of this crisis and protect our economy for the short- and long-term. Balancing the health and economic impacts of COVID-19 must be part of the equation.
Minnesota Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, who's been critical of the governor's original stay-at-home order, said on Twitter that it's "welcome news" that some businesses can reopen.
"I will continue to share the feedback I get with the Governor as he makes these decisions," Gazelka said.
Following Walz's press conference, Dr. Rahul Koranne, president and CEO of the Minnesota Hospital Association, spoke with reporters on a short media call.
“We fully support the governor in asking Minnesotans to continue to stay at home and practice diligent social distancing,” said Koranne. “It is working.”
Koranne said hospitals across the state are working to add capacity in anticipation of a potential surge in Covid-19 cases.
“Right now hospitals are expanding capacity for critical care,” said Koranne.
Koranne acknowledged the financial impact of dealing with the crisis. Elective surgeries and routine clinic appointments have been postponed across the state, which means less revenue for health care systems amid the crisis. Duluth-based Essentia Health recently put 500 non-medical staffers on unpaid leave for that very reason.
“We are in a dire financial crisis. The entire economy is,” said Koranne. “The hospitals and health care systems are being hit significantly from a financial standpoint.”
The Minnesota Department of Health has announced $50 million in grants to help hospital and health care providers deal with the financial fallout of Covid-19. In March, state lawmakers approved an additional $150 million to aid health care systems.
Koranne sees that as a good start but likely not enough to cover the looming losses of health care providers.
“If the surge is significant, that could definitely overwhelm the health care system,” said Koranne. “We will absolutely need much more.”
Does Koranne have any concerns for the Minnesota health care system given that not all adjacent states have stay-at-home orders in place?
“The science is the science and the science needs to be for everybody. We definitely hope that everybody will be led by science and evidence,” said Koranne. “I would say let’s all follow the science and evidence together.”
Senior writer Burl Gilyard contributed to this report.