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Some nonessential Minn. businesses can reopen Monday

Executive order begins a soft economic reopening requiring businesses to explain how they will control for infections

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Josh Knodle of the Department of Public Safety managed the live feed of the press conference as Gov. Tim Walz and leaders from Mayo Clinic, the University of Minnesota, and other Minnesota health system leaders announced advances for COVID-19 testing in Minnesota. Pool photo / Glen Stubbe
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ROCHESTER, Minn. — Gov. Tim Walz on Thursday, April 23, signed an executive order allowing the return to work on Monday of nonessential workers in certain industrial, manufacturing and office settings, provided their employers develop site-specific plans for social distancing, infection control and employee health-check conditions.

The order affects proprietors of non-customer-facing businesses whose employees cannot work from home. It was framed during an afternoon news conference as the first in a staged, conditional reentry plan for return to economic activity in the state. State officials believed the order is likely to affect 80,000 to 100,000 Minnesotans.

Participating businesses were asked to develop a plan according to a state template available at mn.gov/deed. The plan would not need to be filed, but it could be requested in the event of a complaint. Walz likened the order to the turning upward on a dial, rather than flicking of a switch.

"We're in this stay at home order until May 4th," Walz said. "But we have to acclimate ourselves to the understanding that it's a process of dial-turning, and the dial is going to move in both directions. We're not thinking that there's a point in time or a number that means everything can open up. We don't feel that makes sense."

As depicted, the order begins the reopening of the state's economy with smaller and highly predictable settings first, principally manufacturing-type businesses in which workers can be stationed in safe distances from each other, surfaces can be cleaned, employee health can be monitored and employees can be sent home when they are sick.

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The incremental reopening of the economy under this approach would then advance to including cooperating retail settings that develop plans to serve customers with safe measures at curbside. It would continue thereafter to reopen businesses capable of establishing plans for social distancing in small retail. Eventually the state would approve mitigation plans for activities carried out in large, less-predictable settings like malls.

A separate dial created by health officials for the return to social gatherings in state depicts a spectrum of graduated increase in group leisure activity from the smallest gatherings to the largest. As depicted, it would allow a return to small family gatherings first, followed by the return with safety plans for places of worship, followed in the far distance by resumption of activity at sporting venues, concerts and larger, less predictable settings like the Minnesota State Fair.

"I wish I could even envision when we're going to be back in a crowded stadium," Walz said. "But that is at end the end of where we're going. ...This pains me, pains me, pains me," he said after being asked about the fall get-together. "But the State Fair falls at the right of the dial. It's a pretty tough lift."

Both are dials, Walz hastened to add, that health officials would need leeway to turn in the opposite direction, should coronavirus begin to worsen. As evidence of the need to turn the dial back, the state's commissioner for labor and safety offered the example of recent outbreaks at food plants.

"What we learned in that sector is we weren't good, and we needed to dial it back so that we can keep them open, but balance that with keeping the workers safe," said Department of Labor and Industry Commissioner Nancy Leppink.

"What we've learned is that they can't operate at the capacity they have operated at. They need to slow their lines, sequence their shifts, stagger their lunch beaks and take health checks of their employees. They need to stop creating an incentive for people to come to work when they are sick."

The day's news of loosening economic restrictions was in no way evidence that Minnesota has passed the worst of the coronavirus. On Thursday, 70 more cases were reported in Nobles County, home of the shuttered JBS pork plant in Worthington.

It was also a day in which deaths statewide hit another one-day high. With 21 new fatalities, the day saw 10 more deaths from COVID-19 in Hennepin County, three each in Ramsey and Winona counties, two in Washington County, and one each in Fillmore, Clay and Olmsted counties.

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After days of declines, Minnesota hit its highest one-day testing total on Thursday, with 2,204 tests. New confirmed cases hit a one-day high as well at 221, raising the state's confirmed positive case count to 2942. The state believes the positive case count is a significant undercount.

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Minnesota Department of Health COVID-19 hotline: 651-201-3920.

COVID-19 discrimination hotline: 833-454-0148

Minnesota Department of Health COVID-19 website: Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) website .

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Paul John Scott is the health correspondent for NewsMD and the Forum News Service. He is a novelist and was an award winning magazine journalist for 15 years prior to joining the FNS in 2019.
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