ST. PAUL — Gov. Tim Walz on Tuesday, June 16, said he wouldn't immediately heed the call from business owners around the state to allow businesses to fully open Friday and urged them to help enforce safety protocols to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
The comments come after local chambers of commerce around the state, trade groups and the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce pressed the governor to reopen the state by June 19. They argued the state was seeing its COVID-19 cases drop and businesses should have the ability to come back online with safety precautions.
But after waves of reopenings, Walz said Minnesotans hadn't complied with social distancing or mask requirements and he said that could influence the timeline for additional reopenings.
"I hear them. We opened up pools, we are going to try and push as hard as we can but I just want everybody to be really clear, if we just said, ‘Everything’s off,’ it’s not as if all the businesses are going to do that. It’s not as if communities are going to do it,” Walz said. “They’re still going to make the decision themselves. Our best way to get this economy going is to find a sustainable way to make it happen in the long-run.”
The comments came a day before the state on Wednesday, June 17, reported that its COVID-19 case count had grown to 31,296 of 448,587 tested and deaths from the illness and its complications reached 1,325. And Walz warned that too quickly reopening or opening more businesses without adequate enforcement of safety protocols could spur outbreaks of new COVID-19 cases as several states have seen after lifting limitations.
The governor called on local officials and business leaders to enforce existing health and safety policies, which have been required as part of gradual reopening but in some instances have been not been required of customers.
“I would just ask them (to) help us," the governor said. "Don’t just tell me to open more when you all saw the pictures of Dinkytown and some of the bars down there that were really crowded.”
Business leaders said they're willing to work with the governor, but they urged a clearer timeline for letting businesses more fully reopen if they can do so safely with health protocols in place. Various sectors of the economy have been hard hit by the pandemic and the state's efforts to address it, they said. And in Minnesota's border communities, business owners have struggled to compete with businesses in neighboring states.
"We would like to see a leveling the playing field with an emphasis on safety throughout," Minnesota Chamber of Commerce President Doug Loon said Wednesday. “With the partnership between the business, employees and their customers, that’s what will allow us to fully return.”
The coalition of local chambers, trade organizations and the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce has held events around the state to urge the governor to end limits on restaurants, bars, salons and many other businesses. And Loon said they'd been in conversations with Walz and his administration.
State health and economic development officials have said they are weighing new COVID-19 cases reported and hospital capacity to help determine when and how the state can allow businesses to open at full capacity.