Republicans push Walz to speed up business reopenings

Gov. Tim Walz provides an update on the state's response to COVID-19.
Gov. Tim Walz provides an update on the state's response to the coronavirus pandemic on Monday in St. Paul. Walz said he’s working on reopening more businesses, but he’s not sure when it will happen. Senate Republicans say the governor needs to move faster or those businesses will disappear.
Scott Takushi | Pioneer Press via AP, Pool

Gov. Tim Walz has been spending a lot of time listening to the concerns of Minnesota business owners as he decides when to further loosen the executive orders that forced them to close.

He doesn’t have a timetable yet. But during his daily COVID-19 briefing Monday, the governor thanked businesses for their advice.

“Not a single one of these people have ever asked us to put anybody at risk,” Walz said. “They’ve asked to try and understand what does the data show, what does the research show, where can we get to and what’s our plan to get these going.” 

Minnesota continues to see daily increases in COVID-19 cases and deaths.

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State Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said reopening businesses must be done incrementally and safely.

“The stay-at-home order remains in place for another two weeks. And we really need people to observe that by staying within their household groups, and only going out for brief errands or allowable business activities,” Malcolm said.

Abdi Kahin, CEO of Afro Deli
Abdi Kahin, CEO of Afro Deli, speaks at a news conference held by Gov. Tim Walz, right,.
Scott Takushi | Pioneer Press via AP, Pool

Abdi Kahin, CEO of Afro Deli and Grill, is one of the business owners Walz has been talking with.

Kahin said the priority is safety.

“It’s important that we develop a plan for reopening in a safe way that protects our employees and our customers,” Kahin said.

Earlier Monday, Minnesota Senate Republicans gathered at their own news conference to pressure Walz to lift the state’s stay-at-home order and allow businesses to reopen.

They made their case with the help of some business owners and a pastor. 

Andrew Hulse, who owns hair salons Maple Grove and Wayzata, said he believes he can reopen safely.

“We are the experts in our fields. We can put together plans to keep people safe,” Hulse said. “We just have to be allowed to do so and get back to work.”

Churches have also been impacted.

Rory Martin, a pastor at Liberty Baptist Church in Eden Prairie, said his congregation designed a COVID-19 preparedness plan for gathering safely.

“Most churches have waited for the stay at home order to lapse, desiring to honor our governor and love the people of our communities,” he said. “But we can’t wait much longer. The church needs to gather.”

Walz has already allowed for some business reopenings. But many that deal in-person with customers remain closed. 

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, said he spoke to the governor several times in recent days about how to get the economy going again. Gazelka said the reopening effort needs to move quicker.

“The range of emotion that I hear and feel from our public is all across the board,” he said. “Everything from fear to anxiety, to frustration, confusion — It’s just a mix of emotions as we trying to figure out how do we navigate through this.”

Senate Republicans announced the formation of a Senate task force to work on COVID-19 economic recovery issues. Business executive Mike Vekich will lead the group, which will include representatives from business, health care, labor, higher education, local government and the financial industry, Gazelka said. Senators from both parties will also be involved.

Gazelka predicted that there will be reopening missteps along the way. But he said the state can adjust to those issues as they come up.

Sen. Eric Pratt, R-Prior Lake, said businesses that can operate safely should be allowed to reopen.

“We’ve bent the curve on the health care crisis. We need to work on bending the curve on the economic crisis,” he said. “We need to save the lives of these main street businesses.”