Here we go: Minnesota to start reopening on Monday

This may be the first time anyone in Minnesota could be accused of taking a “fairly aggressive posture” on anything. Governor Tim Walz (D) announced that he would lift some COVID-19 restrictions that could put as many as 100,000 Minnesotans back to work on Monday, assuming that the offices and businesses prepare properly to comply with social-distancing and disinfecting guidelines. This doesn’t include retail stores, but it will allow manufacturing, industrial, and office environments to begin operations again:

An estimated 80,000 to 100,000 em­ploy­ees could re­turn to work Mon­day un­der a plan by Gov. Tim Walz to dial back the state’s stay-at-home order, which was imposed to reduce or delay the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The move is tailored to manufacturers and offices that don’t have face-to-face interaction with clients and weren’t deemed critical industries that were exempt from the stay-at-home order.

Roughly 20,000 companies in this category now have the option to reopen if they complete and publicize plans to maintain social distancing, worker hygiene and workspace cleanliness, said Steve Grove, commissioner for the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.

“This is a lim­it­ed first step in the proc­ess of safe­ly re­open­ing some busi­nes­ses and re­turn­ing Min­ne­so­tans to work,” he said.

Walz says this decision, which starts earlier than the May 1 reopening date recommended by the White House for Phase One, is based on the science here in the state. However, as the Star Tribune points out, cases are still increasing here, albeit on a very slow slope. The difference may be the testing capacity that Walz announced earlier in the week, with the ability now to perform 20,000 tests a day. That number will increase too, and in a state of six million residents, that’s at least a significant level for a turn toward normalcy, or something like it.

Besides, Walz said, any other date for a rollout would be “arbitrary,” with not much difference in consequence. The classes of businesses allowed to reopen have predictable movement patterns too, which make it easier to apply new protocols for social distancing, while retail businesses are tougher environments to control and will have to wait. Walz did warn that businesses better be prepared if testing indicated a new need to pause:

Walz said it would be arbitrary to reopen businesses based on dates or goals such as 14 days of declining cases. He also stressed that the new state approach of dialing up or down restrictions goes both ways and that businesses need to be prepared for renewed restrictions if new waves of the pandemic emerge. There is particular concern about a second wave that could come in the fall when the influenza season is emerging at the same time.

“We may have to be prepared to move the dial back down again,” Walz said.

Minnesota might the second state (behind Georgia’s more controversial plan) to take a major step back from the shelter-in-place orders issued in the COVID-19 crisis, but they won’t be alone for long. In yesterday’s briefing, Vice President Mike Pence announced that sixteen states had rolled out plans for reopening along the White House’s guidelines:

Sixteen states have unveiled “formal reopening plans” to lift coronavirus restrictions, Vice President Mike Pence said Thursday, as the country shows “promising signs of progress” on driving down the spread of Covid-19.

“At the present moment, 16 states have released formal reopening plans,” Pence said at a White House press briefing. “States are beginning to make those plans and we’re encouraged to see so many states embracing the phased approach to reopening their economies that’s contemplated in our guidelines for opening up America again.” …

Last week, Trump unveiled broad federal guidelines that lay out conditions for parts of the U.S. to start relaxing some of the strict social distancing measures in a three-phase approach. Before entering the first phase, the guidelines say that the number of cases, positive tests and reports of flu- or Covid 19-like symptoms in a state or region should be trending downward.

There should also be a “robust testing program in place for at-risk healthcare workers, including emerging antibody testing,” according to the guidelines.

The White House didn’t supply a list of the states, but Pence mentioned Missouri, Pennsylvania, Oregon, and Idaho as states preparing to implement Phase One. Ohio’s Mike DeWine has also suggested that they might be ready for that step, but has insisted that the science will drive that decision as well.

All eyes will likely be on Minnesota next week to see how well this works out. Two key questions remain: Will business owners feel comfortable enough to reopen, and will employees have the confidence to return?