Pressure builds to allow more Minnesota businesses to reopen

Andrew Hulse, of Elk River, owns hair salons. He said: “Our employees are our families, and I’m not going to do anything to put them at risk. We understand and are trained in infection control.

by Steve Karnowski

Associated Press

Republicans kept up the pressure Monday on Democratic Gov. Tim Walz to move faster toward allowing more businesses to reopen so they can survive the COVID-19 pandemic, while the governor said his administration is actively making plans for how to accomplish that — but carefully.

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka encouraged the governor at a Capitol news conference to lay out a clearer long-range plan so that businesses can know what to expect and plan for when they can reopen.

“We want to make sure people are safe,” the East Gull Lake Republican said. “We know that is absolutely critical, that Minnesotans feel safe as we move forward. But the fact is that we have to figure out how to move forward.”

But Walz and Economic Development Commissioner Steve Grove said there have been frequent consultations with representatives of key economic sectors across Minnesota to do just that. At their own news conference from the state’s Emergency Operations Center, they highlighted the hospitality industry, and their efforts were endorsed by the head of a major trade group.

The governor also said he plans on Tuesday to ease his order banning elective surgeries. He said the change will also apply to dental care.

Both sides highlighted the need to restart the economy on a day when officials said the number of Minnesotans hospitalized in intensive care with COVID-19 has jumped for three straight days to the highest levels yet. The Minnesota Department of Health reported 166 patients in intensive care units as of Monday, up 11 from a one-day high of 155 set Sunday and a high of 135 set Saturday. A total of 396 patients were hospitalized, up 23 from Sunday.

Minnesota’s confirmed cases rose by 571 to 7,234, but officials say those numbers are way lower than the actual number of coronavirus infections. Minnesota’s death toll rose by nine to 428.

Walz ordered bars and restaurants closed in March and followed that with a broader stay-at-home order, which later relaxed to a limited extent for businesses that don’t face the public and to allow retailers to conduct more “curbside commerce.” His latest order runs through May 18, but he made clear that many restrictions will remain in place longer.

The state’s hospitality industry has taken “a monumental hit,” said Liz Rammer, CEO of Hospitality Minnesota. Her association represents more than 2,000 restaurants and lodging facilities in a sector that normally employs 300,000 people statewide. She said they’re confident that Walz and his team understand the “dire consequences” they’re facing.

“We’re confident, too, that our hospitality businesses are ready to open now,” Rammer said. “Our businesses and the public, they’re ready to approach this new normal. They understand that there’s going to be need for promoting active social distancing, enhanced sanitation processes and ways to engage with one another in a meaningful and safe way.”

Gazelka said many of the benchmarks Walz originally set for reopening the economy have been met now, including securing more personal protective equipment for front-line workers, setting up enough intensive care unit beds to handle the coming surge in cases, and building up the state’s testing capacity.

Appearing with Gazelka were business owners and a pastor who said they’ve developed detailed plans for operating safely with proper social distancing, sanitation and other safeguards, but don’t known when they might get the chance.

“Our communities need this hope, and the encouragement that it brings, more than ever,” said Rory Martin, pastor at Liberty Baptist Church in Eden Prairie.

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