Minnesota’s COVID-19 stay-at-home order: What you need to know

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A man in a mask walks past people on the street.
People walk down Grand Ave. in St. Paul, Minn., some wearing a mask on Sunday, March 22, 2020.
Evan Frost | MPR News
Updated: April, 2020 at 9:45 a.m. | Posted: March 25, 2020 at 5 p.m.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz’s stay-at-home order, intended to slow the spread of COVID-19 across the state and tamp down its impacts, is a dramatic step that requires people to stay home unless absolutely necessary.

It’s a far-reaching measure that has the potential to drastically impact the lives of all Minnesotans, changing the ways in which we work, play, learn and go about our daily lives.

But what will it mean, in practical terms?

If you have a question about how this will impact your life, please share it with us. We’ll continue to update this article with answers to your questions.

A person walks past a sign that reads "Be kind. Stay safe."
A pedestrian walks past Grandview Theatre in St. Paul Wednesday. The movie theater temporarily closed on March 17 in an effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News

When does the stay-at-home order go into effect?

The order goes into effect at 11:59 p.m. on Friday, March 27. It is set to last until Friday, April 10 at 5 p.m.

So, what am I still allowed to do?

Lots of things. Minnesotans are allowed to do several things outside their homes — as long as they follow social distancing recommendations.

Get “necessary supplies and services.” If you need something, you can go get it. This includes food (groceries, delivery or carry-out), beverages (including alcohol; liquor stores are not closed under the order), gas, supplies that will help you work from home, and products you need to clean and maintain homes, vehicles, bicycles and businesses. State officials ask residents to use their best judgment and purchase only what they need. You can also leave to do your laundry!

A man places bottles on shelves.
Andrew Hardgrove restocks the whisky shelves on Wednesday at Liquor Barrel in St. Paul. Liquor stores are not closed under Minnesota's COVID-19 stay-at-home order.
Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News

Get medical care. If you need emergency medical services, of course you’re allowed to leave your home. You can also go if you need other medical services, supplies, or medications — or to visit a health care or dental professional or facility. You can also leave to visit a veterinarian. And you may leave to donate blood.

Care for others. You may leave to care for a family member, friend or pet in another household, or to provide transportation for them. The order specifically identifies “existing parenting time schedules or other visitation schedules pertaining to a child in need of protective services” as acceptable reasons for leaving home under the order.

Get out of an unsafe situation. You may also move to another residence if your home becomes unsafe, or if you’re in an unsafe situation — the governor’s order specifically referenced those “who have suffered or are at risk of domestic violence.”

A woman talking to two people near empty shelves at a store.
Daisy Haung (right) of St. Paul's Shuang Hur Supermarket talks to customers looking for jasmine rice in early March. The family-run Asian grocery store ran out of jasmine rice that weekend, as people stood in long lines to stockpile food in the early days of COVID-19 in Minnesota.
Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News

People without a home are exempt from the restrictions in the governor’s order, and are allowed to move among emergency shelter, drop-in centers and encampments. The order also specifically forbids “sweeps or disbandment” of homeless encampments, saying that they would exacerbate the potential spread of the coronavirus.

Get home. The order also allows people to travel within the state and out of state for allowed activities — and to return home.

Take a drive. The order says people are allowed to “drive for pleasure,” and may go to public parks and other public places that are open, as long as they maintain safe social distancing.

Travel within or between tribal lands. Minnesota’s Native American reservations, federal trust lands and activities on the state’s treaty territories are exempt from the restrictions in Walz’s order. Several Native nations have already put in place their own restrictions. The Red Lake Nation, for instance, has enacted a curfew that restricts movement on the Red Lake reservation between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. The Walz order also allows tribal members to travel among reservations.

Can I go outside?

Yes, people are still encouraged to head outside. When he announced the stay-at-home order, Gov. Walz emphasized that getting out for a walk is a “good thing,” that fresh air is crucial for maintaining physical and mental health.

But Walz also cautioned to “be smart about this.” People must maintain 6 feet of social distance from members of other households — and continue to take the same precautions we have put in place so far: covering coughs, washing hands and disinfecting surfaces.

The Duluth parks department has even released a handy graphic detailing exactly what 6 feet looks like.

A graphic explains how to maintain 6 feet of social distance.
How to maintain 6 feet of social distance.
Courtesy of the city of Duluth

Allowed activities include: walking, hiking, running, biking, driving for pleasure, hunting and fishing.

People are also allowed to go to public parks and other public spaces that are still open, though the order notes that events and gatherings at those public spaces should remain canceled for the time being.

The order also states that this does not necessarily mean businesses who provide an element of outdoor recreation are exempt from the order.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, which runs state parks, is maintaining a page of updates related to the COVID-19 outbreak, including cancellations and closures. As of March 31, state parks, recreation areas and other public lands remained open to the public and no restrictions had been put on DNR-controlled fishing ramps, though season maintenance may impact accessibility. The DNR has closed campgrounds, group camps, remote campsites and other overnight lodging facilities. Visitor centers and contact stations are also closed.

The DNR asks that people not travel too far from home to visit a park and to observe social distancing guidelines.

Can I go to work?

It depends.

For weeks, state officials have urged people to work from home, if they can. This order makes those requests official: “All workers who can work from home must do so.”

People who work in what are considered “critical sectors” and who cannot work from home are allowed to leave home to travel back and forth between their homes and workplaces. They’re also allowed to transport kids to child care.

People standing far apart from each other and people at tables.
Students distance themselves as they line up to pick up books, work and their belongings at North High School gym Monday.
Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News

Is my job in a critical sector?

DEED Commissioner Steve Grove said 78 percent of jobs in the state are part of what the state deems “critical sectors,” which will not be required to temporarily close. Grove’s Department of Employment and Economic Development is maintaining a detailed list of the jobs that are exempt from the travel restrictions in the order. The order lists about three dozen sectors that are deemed critical, including:

  • Health care and public health

  • Law enforcement, public safety and first responders

  • Child care

  • Transportation, including public transit workers

  • Construction and critical trades, including skilled trades like electricians and plumbers, and janitorial staff of commercial and government buildings.

  • Food and agriculture

  • Water and wastewater

  • Critical manufacturing, including iron ore mining and processing operations.

If you have a question about whether your business or employer is considered “essential, “ you can send an email to state economic development officials at criticalsectors@state.mn.us

If you’re wondering whether a certain business if open: Many who fall under these essential services likely are — including pet supply stores, hardware stores, grocery stores and restaurants able to comply with the pick-up and delivery only rules.

However, you will want to check on a businesses’ website or official social media accounts to see if their hours have changed. Some may have had to adjust or close temporarily based on health officials’ guidance and/or other business concerns.

Those who are able to work from home are not required to stop working.

I think I'm vulnerable to COVID-19, but my boss says I have to come to work. What can I do?

Individuals with conditions that elevate an employee’s risk for contracting COVID-19 can request reasonable accommodations with their employer under an order from Walz.

The list of workers considered essential is long: According to the Walz administration, roughly 80 percent of Minnesota’s workforce is considered key to keeping basic functions running, including health care workers, people working in grocery retail and people who work in farming or related industries.

In a news conference this week, Walz said that employees who say they can work from home, but whose employers are preventing them from doing so, should bring complaints about these policies to his administration. And he reminded employers that his executive orders are clear that all workers who can work from home should work from home. He added that employers should also use his administration as a resource if they’re not clear on how these rules should be implemented.

Read more from MPR News reporter Catharine Richert.

Can I apply for unemployment?

DEED Commissioner Steve Grove provided some clarification about unemployment filing during an interview with MPR News’ Tom Crann on All Things Considered earlier this month.

“You are eligible to find employment insurance if you are displaced from your work. [Was it through] no fault of your own? And so if for whatever reason that you are no longer working, you are now eligible for unemployment insurance, even if, for example, your hours have been severely cut. We may still be able to cover some of that gap with unemployment insurance,” he said.

He went on to add: “For any applicant [for] unemployment insurance, there are unique details of their workplace that our team needs to review. There are not always universal answers to these questions. … Generally, we can get payments out the door within a week or two.”

On a related note, Walz has issued orders halting evictions and establishing emergency loans for small businesses. The Minnesota Multi Housing Association also issued a statement to its members to halt evictions and temporarily stop new rent increase notifications on all renters from April 1. Under the small-business loan program, any business closed under government order is eligible for loans of between $2,500 and $35,000.

Can I go to my family’s cabin?

That answer is a little trickier. Under the order, people are allowed to travel for these exempted activities:

Get “necessary supplies and services,” get medical care, care for others (specifically, you can leave to care for a family member, friend or pet in another household,) get out of an unsafe situation, drive for pleasure while social distancing, travel within or between tribal lands and travel home from any of these activities. See above for more details.

It’s worth noting that before the “stay at home” order was issued, many resort owners in northern Minnesota had already made the tough decision to cancel cabin reservations.

And some local officials in northern Minnesota and Wisconsin are asking cabin and second home owners not to visit during the current outbreak.

On March 24, the Cook County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved a travel advisory requesting that seasonal or second homeowners stay home — for the time being.

“Due to our very limited health care infrastructure, please do not visit us now,” the county’s advisory reads.

Cook County lies at the tip of Minnesota's Arrowhead region and borders Canada, Lake Superior and the Boundary Waters; includes four state parks, the Gunflint Trail, Grand Portage National Monument; and the towns of Lutsen, Tofte and Grand Marais. Tourism makes up more than 80 percent of its economy.

Commissioners took action after they heard from county residents about what they perceived to be an influx of visitors from the Twin Cities and elsewhere — opening up their seasonal homes and staying at local resorts during a time when state health officials are emphasizing the need for social distancing to tamp the spread of the coronavirus.

The advisory is not mandatory — and it’s not legally enforceable. But county leaders are concerned that its limited health care infrastructure, grocery stores and other retailers aren’t equipped to handle additional visitors. It was modeled after a similar advisory passed by Bayfield County in northwestern Wisconsin, another tourism area with an aging population.

Can my kids go to school?

Walz issued an order in the middle of March that closed schools from March 18-27.

"This time period is to allow our school districts to adapt, to prepare for distance learning and to do the things that we need to do that are multi-fold when a decision like this is made," he said at the time.

Since then, districts and parents have adapted to the change, trying to figure out creative ways to meet students’ food, educational and care needs.

Two people waiting on a school bus.
Volunteer Jessi Schultz looks out a bus window to see if anyone is approaching, while Suzie Rudolph gets the next student's meal ready for delivery last week in Morrison County. On a typical day, the bus would be filled with students, but is now used to deliver meals for Little Falls school district students who are staying home as a precaution to stem the COVID-19 outbreak.
Paul Middlestaedt for MPR News

Schools are set to provide distance learning beginning on Monday, March 30. When he issued the stay-at-home order, Walz also extended the school closure through May 4.

So, for the month of April and a little beyond, Minnesota schools will be closed to in-person instruction, but “must provide continuous education.” Schools are required to allow their employees to work remotely, whenever possible.

Can I still bring my kids to child care? Is it safe?

Minnesota’s stay-at-home order does not prohibit families from taking their kids to day care, but officials note that the goal is to keep providers open specifically for the children of emergency workers.

According to guidance the governor’s office provided to day care providers, families are ordered to stay home other than exempted activities. There is nothing in that order that “expressly prohibits” families from taking their kids to day care, the guidance noted.

Children transmitting the disease is a concern, however, because many are either asymptomatic or they don’t get severely ill from COVID-19, according to some studies.

It might be hard to detect COVID-19 in order to take the necessary precautions. But many child care providers have implemented strict measures to keep COVID-19 out of centers and homes. They screen families at drop-off, limit outside visitors and clean more often than they have in the past.

The uncertainty of how the virus will spread in Minnesota has many families keeping their young children at home, forcing full-time working parents to merge work life and home life in unprecedented ways, and taking away income from the not-so-lucrative profession of early childhood educators. You can read more on this topic in MPR News reporter Riham Feshir’s recent report.

Is my dated driver’s license still valid?

Expired Minnesota driver’s licenses will be considered valid for several more months.

People whose license or ID card lapsed during the ongoing coronavirus epidemic will get a reprieve. Under a law that Gov. Tim Walz signed, expiration dates will be pushed out until the health emergency is over.

The new expiration date will be two months after Walz lifts the peacetime emergency.

The federal government has already delayed its Real ID deadline from October of this year to October of 2021. That is key people who will eventually need that card or another security-enhanced ID to get through airport security or into various federal buildings.

Minnesota vehicle registration won’t be granted extensions because people can still do that function online or by mail. Currently, car owners have 10 days beyond the end of their annual registration month to display updated stickers.

How will the new restrictions be enforced?

According to the executive order, anyone who willfully violates the restrictions could be punished with a fine up to $1,000 or 90 days in jail.

However, Gov. Walz is urging Minnesotans to voluntarily comply with the executive order. If someone does violate it, he said, “we don’t want them to be arrested. We want to educate people. This requires voluntary social compliance.”

A man wearing a mask carries boxes.
Michael Koehler helps load boxes of N95 masks collected Tuesday outside the Minnesota Nurses Association offices in St. Paul. Teamsters Local 120 helped bring donated items to the State Emergency Operations Center to be distributed to hospitals.
Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News

While the state would have the ability to arrest someone, Walz said, “we have no desire to do that.”

Do I need a permit to travel?

In a word: No.

Gov. Walz further clarified during a March 26 news briefing that no one is required to carry special documentation proving their job or destination meets state guidelines in order to travel while the order is in place.

How is this order different from the ones that have already been issued?

Walz has already issued several orders since early March, all aimed at keeping Minnesotans from congregating in ways that might aid the disease's spread.

So far, bars and restaurants have shifted to takeout-only service. Businesses that provide “public accommodation,” like gyms and health clubs, theaters, museums and bowling alleys — and those that require close human contact, like salons and tattoo parlors — have been closed.

That order, which was originally scheduled to expire on March 27, has now been extended until 5 p.m on May 1.

Will public transit keep operating?

Yes. Transit workers are considered essential employees.

However, many systems have cut back service. Metro Transit in the Twin Cities, for example, has cut back on its daily service in an effort to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Several public transit organizations have also implemented rear-door boarding to limit interaction between drivers and passengers, and some, including Fargo, N.D.-Moorhead, Minn., buses, are going fare-free during the epidemic.

Airports also remain open for essential travel and for those returning home.

A marquee sign reads "Stay healthy. See you again soon."
The Paramount Center for the Arts marquee offers a little word of encouragement last week in downtown St. Cloud, Minn.
Paul Middlestaedt for MPR News

What have we missed?

Let us know! We’re planning to continue to update this page, with answers to your questions about this latest development in Minnesota’s work to combat the spread of the coronavirus.

Health officials for weeks have been increasingly raising the alarm over the spread of the novel coronavirus in the United States. The disease is transmitted through respiratory droplets, coughs and sneezes, similar to the way the flu can spread.

Government and medical leaders are urging people to wash their hands frequently and well, refrain from touching their faces, cover their coughs, disinfect surfaces and avoid large crowds, all in an effort to curb the virus’ rapid spread.

The state of Minnesota has temporarily closed schools, while administrators work to determine next steps, and is requiring a temporary closure of all in-person dining at restaurants, bars and coffee shops, as well as theaters, gyms, yoga studios and other spaces in which people congregate in close proximity.

MPR News’ Brian Bakst and Sara Porter contributed to this report.

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