Walz plots 'changes' to business closure order, but not 'back to normal'

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz says he will make changes to the COVID-19 closure order that is scheduled to end Friday night, but there will be no immediate return to normal. 

Walz has forced thousands of businesses -- including bars, restaurants, gyms, movie theaters and more -- to close to customers since Nov. 21. Business groups are urging him to reconsider, some defiant owners say they'll open regardless of the governor's decision, and a few have sued him over the restrictions.

The governor plans to announce his huge decision during a mid-afternoon Wednesday speech. He has twice delayed the call as Minnesota's infection numbers improve.
"It appears like Minnesotans did an awful lot of things right around Thanksgiving," Walz said Tuesday. "There will be some changes to the mitigation strategy."
Virus cases have plummeted in the past 16 days after surging in November and hitting a peak of 9,000 newly reported cases a day around Thanksgiving. Hospitalizations have also tumbled 30 percent since their Thanksgiving weekend peak.

The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce is urging Walz to let the business closures end Friday night.

"Anything further on restrictions is going to put us at more of a disadvantage as state economy and is going to make recovery even harder," said Doug Loon, the chamber's president, in an interview.

But the governor, a first-term Democrat, did not appear ready to fully end his closure order.

"I think there will be a desire of people to say well heck, you brought the numbers down some over Thanksgiving, you got a vaccine, why don’t we just all go back to normal?" Walz said. "I would guess my epidemiologists would give me different advice on that."

Meanwhile, the ReOpen Minnesota Coalition says about 160 businesses will reopen this week regardless of Walz's decision, defying the governor's authority. Some will open as early as Wednesday, a spokesman for the group said earlier this week.

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, the top Republican in state government, endorsed the businesses' plan, saying they should be allowed to do "whatever they want to do. They're desperate."

Loon said he preferred to see the governor end the forced closures, rather than businesses putting themselves in jeopardy over an "illegal" act.

Overnight, Minnesota lawmakers overwhelmingly approved an economic relief package with a 13-week extension of unemployment benefits and $216 million in cash relief to struggling businesses.

Businesses will be eligible for up to a $45,000 payment courtesy of taxpayers. Some money will be paid directly to businesses that have lost 30 percent or more of their revenue this year, while an additional pot of money will be sent to counties to dole out to local businesses.

The legislation doesn't prevent checks from going to businesses that defy the governor's order and reopen.

Walz said he would sign it into law "as soon as possible."