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Governor orders 4-week dial back

Targets bars, restaurants and school sports

Photo by Deb Gau Under a new executive order from Gov. Tim Walz, bars and restaurants must close dine-in service for the next four weeks. Wooden Nickel manager Tim Clausen said the timing of the order wasn’t good for restaurants — he wasn’t sure if customers would be willing to order much take-out food in the winter.

MARSHALL — Minnesotans have already been asked to make a lot of sacrifices this year, Gov. Tim Walz said.

“We’ve done this before. We did this in the spring, and it was incredibly hard,” Walz said in an address to the state on Wednesday evening. But as COVID-19 cases surge across the state and put front-line responders at risk, Minnesotans would need to step up again, he said.

“It’s not easy and it’s not fair. But it’s a sacrifice we need to make,” Walz said.

On Wednesday, Gov. Tim Walz issued an executive order calling for a four-week “dial back” on activities ranging from restaurant dining to social gatherings and school sports. The new restrictions take effect at 11:59 p.m. Friday, and call for indoor entertainment, fitness centers, dine-in service and group activities like youth sports to be put on hold.

“We’re at a dangerous point in this pandemic,” where community spread is growing quickly, Walz said. It took Minnesota 29 weeks to report its first 100,000 cases of COVID-19, but only six weeks to report its second 100,000, he said. And at least a third of all new infections in the state come from an unknown source.

But while Walz’s address acknowledged Minnesota businesses and workers for the sacrifices they’ve made so far, local businesspeople are concerned about how they’ll make it through another shutdown.

“I’ve talked to business owners who are concerned,” said Minnesota state Rep. Chris Swedzinski, R-Ghent. In addition, he said it didn’t seem like Walz’s order was made with input from businesses like restaurants. “I’ve heard from business groups that nobody’s been engaged.”

Southwest Minnesota may be seeing a spike in COVID-19 cases, “But also people have to make the best decisions for their family.”

Tim Clausen, manager of the Wooden Nickel in Marshall, said the timing of the order to close dine-in service was bad on a couple of different levels.

“There’s no lead time for us,” to adjust supply orders, he said. In the short term, that leads to a loss of money. If the governor was going to order restaurants to close, Clausen said, “I had hoped it would be on Monday to give us a full weekend at least.”

Closing dine-in service in the winter is also going to be tough for restaurants.

“I don’t think take-out is going to be as good an option” during cold weather, he said. Plus, holiday gatherings and meals are important for many businesses at this time of year.

Walz said the new restrictions were significant, but not on the level of the stay-at-home order issued in March and April. Places of worship, retail stores and businesses like salons and barbershops will be allowed to stay open. There have been minimal outbreaks and cases traced back to those types of businesses since they reopened, the executive order said.

The new executive order prohibits social gatherings of people who are not members of the same household, as well as celebrations and receptions. Outdoor activities are allowed, provided that people from different households keep a six-foot social distance.

Indoor recreational activities are also prohibited under the order, with some exceptions for professional and intercollegiate athletes. Organized youth sports — including school sports and Minnesota State High School League sports — must stop all in-person activities like practices, group workouts, games and tournaments.

Under the new order, restaurants and bars are limited to take-out and deliveries only. Gyms, fitness centers, indoor entertainment venues and theaters will all be closed for the next four weeks.

The order urges Minnesotans to avoid unnecessary travel, and encourages them to self-quarantine for 14 days after arriving in Minnesota from other states or countries. Workers should work from home if possible, the order said.

Walz’s announcement came on a day that the Minnesota Department of Health reported 5,102 new cases of COVID-19, and 67 deaths — the highest number of deaths reported in a single day.

Walz said Minnesota was able to “bend the curve” of COVID-19 cases in the spring, and buy time for health care providers to prepare for a surge. But now, the risk is coming from spread of the coronavirus to health care and nursing home workers, as well as police and emergency responders like firefighters.

“They are getting sick at increasing rates,” Walz said. “Health care workers are not getting it in the (health care) facilities, they’re getting it in the community.”

It was important for the public to slow the spread of COVID-19 to preserve front-line responders, he said.

Spokespeople for Minnesota’s hospitality businesses said Wednesday that the new executive order was a blow to the industry.

“Today’s news is heartbreaking, and the impact will be devastating. It will most certainly mean significant increased unemployment and further permanent loss of our bars and restaurants across Minnesota,” said Tony Chesak, executive director of the Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association. Chesak called for more state and federal support for bars and restaurants.

“The state and federal government both need to take steps to aid employees and the hospitality industry with relaxed regulations, direct financial support, unemployment assistance and loans to get through this dark winter,” he said. He also encouraged Minnesotans to support small businesses by buying take-out and gift cards whenever possible.

The need for a stimulus package for hospitality businesses was something Walz agreed with in his address Wednesday night.

“I will continue to fight for it at the state level and at the federal level,” Walz said.

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