Minnesota Governor: No 'exact date' for businesses to reopen

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz said Monday he did not have an exact date or a timeline for thousands of shuttered Minnesota businesses to reopen.

Right now, they're ordered to close until at least May 18. Some owners of restaurants, bars, shops and salons have called on Walz to let them fully reopen, saying that they've developed social distancing and cleaning guidelines on their own.

The debate over reopening is playing out as confirmed coronavirus cases climb and 166 Minnesotans are now in intensive care, a new high.

"I think it has to be somewhat methodical," Walz told reporters Monday afternoon. "I think the sooner you can get to that, the sooner you can get certainty, the better."

The first-term Democratic governor said his approach would include the creation of a new council of business, labor and government officials later this week.

Amid the uncertainty, some business owners have said they'll need a week or two of lead time to hire back employees and restock before opening.

"The worst thing that could happen is we give them a potential date and then push it back," Walz said.

Economic development commissioner Steve Grove said state officials are working through this question with businesses.

Hospitality Minnesota chief executive Liz Rammer, who spoke at Monday's news conference, said it takes time for businesses to get their staffs back and teach new protocols. The supply chain has been disrupted and for restaurants, the coolers have been empty for weeks now, she said.

"People can’t afford to have a change," Rammer said. "There’s considerable amount of expenses going into this, so people need confidence that this is going to happen and this is going to go forward."

Senate Republicans and some business owners on Monday called on the governor to allow more of the state's economy to reopen.

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka said the governor's antivirus strategy -- obtaining more personal protective equipment for frontline workers, building out hospital ICU capacity, and increasing the amount of testing -- has largely been achieved.

"PPE. Beds. Tests. We’re ready," Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, said at a morning news conference. "Now is the time when we have to have courage."

Two restaurant owners, a salon owner and a church pastor joined Senate Republicans. Matt Winter, who owns Plate Restaurant in Prior Lake, said his plan would include taking reservations, allowing guests to enter one group at a time, having his staff wear gloves and masks, and instructing staff to use hand sanitizer.

"(Customers) know we take care of people and it’s not going to stop because there’s a virus going on," Winter said. "We’re going to do what’s necessary to keep people safe."

Winter said many restaurants are getting only 20 to 40 percent of their normal revenue from carryout. Beer and wine to-go, which Walz and the Legislature started allowing last month, is only 1 percent of takeout sales, he said.

Rory Martin, the pastor at Liberty Baptist Church in Eden Prairie, said he's developed protocols on entrance and exit doors, seating arrangements, and holding multiple services to create smaller gatherings.

But the church doesn't know where to turn for answers, he said.

"We have no idea how to get a plan approved, to whom we can submit it, or if anyone needs to or will consider it," Martin said.

Announcement on elective surgeries coming Tuesday

Walz said he will announce Tuesday a restart on elective procedures.

"There is going to be an expansion of elective surgeries” and that includes dental procedures, he told reporters about the move.

Widespread community transmission in Stearns County

Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said it appears there's more widespread community transmission in Stearns County than in Nobles County, where the virus outbreak was centered on the JBS pork processing plant.

Stearns County has shot up the list of counties with confirmed cases, now ranking third with 728 cases.

Over the weekend, the New York Times said St. Cloud was the top spot an outbreak could happen next.

Walz orders creditors to stop taking stimulus checks

Walz's latest executive order signed Monday afternoon stops creditors from collecting people's stimulus payments. It doesn't apply to child support obligations.

The federal stimulus law granted up to $1,200 to each U.S. adult, and $500 per child under the age of 17. But Congress didn't explicitly say that the money was free from garnishment by debt collectors.