COVID-19 Update: Stay at Home Becomes Stay Safe as Minnesota Continues to Reopen its Economy

Legal Alert

Governor Walz held a 6:00 p.m. press conference last night, May 13, 2020, to announce that Minnesota’s most recent stay-at-home order (Executive Order 20-48) would expire without further extension at 11:59 p.m. on Sunday, May 17, 2020.  In tune with Minnesota’s cautious and strategic approach to reopening, this order was replaced by Executive Order 20-56 (the “Order”), which provides further steps towards reopening Minnesota’s economy.  This Order will go into effect at 11:59 p.m. on Sunday, May 17, 2020.

The Order allows for all retail stores, shopping malls, and other businesses that sell, maintain, and repair goods to open beginning on Monday, May 18, 2020 as long as they have adopted and implemented a COVID-19 Preparedness Plan (“Plan”) (we have summarized requirements for a Plan, at New Executive Orders Signed by Governor Walz as Minnesota Continues Down the Path of Re-Opening Its Economy), including social distancing guidelines for workers and customers.  These businesses are also limited to operating at 50 percent or less of their normal occupant capacity (as determined by the fire marshal) and must maintain worker and customer physical social distancing of 6 feet.  The Department of Employment and Economic Development has published further guidelines for reopening.

Critical Sector businesses that were never closed are not affected by this Order.  Those Non-Critical Sector businesses permitted to reopen under previous Executive Order 20-40, which we reported on at Minnesota Eases Some Restrictions and Provides Indication of the Path to Reopening the Economy During COVID-19 Crisis, and Executive Order 20-48, which we reported on at Minnesota Cautiously Moves Forward: Extending Stay-At-Home Order While Allowing Certain Additional Businesses to Reopen, including all industrial, manufacturing, and office-based businesses, can continue operations so long as they have a Plan.

Customer-facing businesses (i.e., businesses that have in-person customer interactions) that are permitted to operate under the Order must implement added protections to keep the public and workers safe in their respective Plans, include posting signage discouraging gathering. Customer-facing businesses that share common areas, such as malls, must include details about the overall facility’s occupancy, sanitizing, cleaning, and disinfecting guidelines for the common areas in their Plans.  Household-services businesses (i.e., housecleaning, maid services, etc.) must also have specific provisions in their Plan addressing protocols for keeping workers and customers safe.

Consistent with previous executive orders, all those workers who can work from home are still encouraged to do so whenever possible.

This Order temporarily extends the closure of bars, in-person dining at restaurants, salons, barbershops, gyms and other places of public accommodation,[1] as set forth in Executive Order 20-04, and amended by Executive Orders 20-08 and 20-18, until 11:59 p.m. on Sunday, May 31, 2020.  Barbershops and salons may continue to conduct retail product sales in accordance with the guidance provided in Executive Order 20-40.  The Commissioners of Health, Employment and Economic Development, and Labor and Industry have been directed to develop a set of guidelines to permit bars, restaurants, salons, and barbershops to resume business on June 1, 2020.  The Governor intends to make this announcement no later than May 20, 2020.

The Order prohibits all gatherings of individuals greater than 10 people that are not members of the same household, but does permit social gatherings of 10 or fewer people, even if held in public places and between individuals who are not of the same household, such as church meetings, birthdays, and other gatherings of friends and family.  This limit does not apply to legislative or governmental meetings, judicial branch gatherings, federal activities, or tribal activities.  Additionally, to enable safe congregation of more than 10 people, drive-in gatherings are permitted, provided that all participants remain within their own vehicles and follow guidelines provided by the Minnesota Department of Health (“MDH”).

The Order also allows for individuals to engage in additional outdoor recreational activities, so long as they are conducted in accordance with Outdoor Recreation Guidelines.  This is an expansion on the previous list of permitted outdoor recreational activities, as established in Executive Order 20-38, which we reported on Minnesota Eases Some Restrictions and Provides Indication of the Path to Reopening the Economy During COVID-19 Crisis, and as expanded in Executive Order 20-48, analyzed Minnesota Cautiously Moves Forward: Extending Stay-At-Home Order While Allowing Certain Additional Businesses to Reopen.  The Order permits the use of dispersed and remote camping sites for single household use.   A dispersed campsite is a single campsite, not in a developed campground, used for overnight camping. A remote campsite is a designated backpack or watercraft campsite, not in a developed campground, used for overnight camping.  However, as in previous Executive Orders (see 20-48), private and public developed campgrounds still remain closed to recreational camping.  The Order also allows outdoor tournaments, competitions, practices, and sports that allow for social distance to resume.  These sports must not require group gatherings larger than 10 people as prohibited by the Order.  Small one-on-one or one-on-two person guided and instructional activities such as guided fishing, birding, or outdoor fitness training are also permitted by the Order.

While schools will remain closed under the Order, Governor Walz confirmed that schools will continue to provide meals and child-care (including daytime youth summer programming) for critical workers during the summer months.  The Governor is looking at a hybrid option for summer school and additional guidance will be forthcoming from the Minnesota Department of Education.  Arrangements for summer camps and youth sports are still being made, and the Governor is discussing possible plans with experts and hopes for “real guidance” before June 1st.

Governor Walz also issued Executive Order 20-53, extending Minnesota’s state of peacetime emergency until June 12, 2020, giving him the authority to pass further executive orders, mobilize the National Guard, and for the state to continue to receive economic assistance from the federal government until this date.  In doing so, Governor Walz recognized that in the past month, the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact has only intensified in Minnesota and COVID-19 continues to endanger life and property in Minnesota.  State officials also acknowledged that the Order and the more lenient rules provided therein will naturally lead to a rise in transmission of COVID-19.  The Governor warned during last night’s press conference that changes could be rolled back if the state sees a dramatic increase in its number of cases. 

In accordance with the continuing health crisis, the Governor has strongly encouraged the use of mask and face coverings in all public settings.  Individuals engaged in activities outside the home should follow Center for Disease Control and Prevention, MDH, and Department of Natural Resources guidelines.  Individuals are still encouraged to stay near their home and all unnecessary travel is strongly discouraged.  All at-risk individuals, as defined in Executive Order 20-55, also issued on May 13, 2020, with illness or underlying health conditions are encouraged to stay home for the duration of the peacetime emergency.

This Order is expected to allow up to 37,000 workers to return to the workforce and is welcome news for many businesses throughout the state who are eager to get Minnesota’s economy going again.  However, with the return of a significant number of employees to their workplace, the state recognizes that these workers will be at an increased risk.  Workers continue to raise concerns regarding the safety of their work environments during this time and reports of unsafe work environments, discipline, and retaliation have been common.  Accordingly, Governor Walz also announced he had signed Executive Order 20-54, which protects workers from unsafe working conditions and employer discrimination and retaliation during the COVID-19 pandemic. Our detailed legal alert on this can be found at Minnesota Increases Worker Protections as It Prepares for Workers Returning to Work in a Pandemic.

For additional guidance about Governor Walz’s most recent executive orders, contact your Stoel Rives attorney.

[1]Executive Order 20-04, as amended by 20-08, defines “places of public accommodation” as follows: Restaurants, food courts, cafes, coffeehouses, and other places of public accommodation offering food or beverage for on-premises consumption, excluding institutional or in-house food cafeterias that serve residents, employees, and clients of businesses, child care facilities, hospitals, and long term care facilities; bars, taverns, brew pubs, breweries, microbreweries, distilleries, wineries, tasting rooms, clubs, and other places of public accommodation offering alcoholic beverages for on-premises consumption; hookah bars, cigar bars, and vaping lounges offering their products for on premises consumption; theaters, cinemas, indoor and outdoor performance venues, and museums; gymnasiums, fitness centers, recreation centers, indoor sports facilities, indoor exercise facilities, exercise studios, and tanning establishments, body art establishments, tattoo parlors, piercing parlors, businesses offering massage therapy or similar body work, spas, salons, nail salons, cosmetology salons, esthetician salons, advanced practice esthetician salons, eyelash salons, and barber shops; amusement parks, arcades, bingo halls, bowling alleys, indoor climbing facilities, skating rinks, trampoline parks, and other similar recreational or entertainment facilities; country clubs, golf clubs, boating or yacht clubs, sports or athletic clubs, and dining clubs. 

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