Coronavirus: Gov. Walz loosens restrictions to allow up to 100,000 back to work

The latest executive order has followed consultation with businesses and labor unions.

Gov. Tim Walz has announced that more businesses will be allowed to return to operation starting this Monday.

The announcement on Thursday means between 80,000 and 100,000 workers will be allowed to resume their employment a full week before the end of Gov. Walz's Stay at Home order.

Walz has signed Executive Order 20-40 that adds to the Stay at Home exemption list "workers in non-customer facing industrial and office-based businesses who cannot work from home."

Here's a look at what that means, as described on the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development website:

Industrial: "Places of employment in which goods are in the process of being created. Agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting qualify, as do mining, construction, utilities and manufacturing. Wholesale trade and warehousing also qualify as they are preparing those goods for sale to customers and consumers. Some of these settings are natural for allowing social distancing. Others will be more difficult and require businesses to change practices, including increasing space between workstations and reducing density of workers for each shift."

Office: "Places of employment in which workers do their work within an office space where people primarily do their work at their desk and whose work is primarily not customer facing. Some settings will be natural for allowing social distancing, with people primarily working in individual offices. Others will be more difficult and require businesses to change practices, including increasing space between workstations and reducing density of workers for each shift."

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Walz also warned during his press conference on Thursday that he may have to re-impose restrictions on businesses if there are major outbreaks of the virus.

It's also worth noting that businesses do not have to re-open if they don't wish to do so.

If a business does re-open, workers who choose not to go back to work due to concern about COVID-19 will no longer qualify for unemployment insurance, though there are exemptions for dependent care and those vulnerable to the virus.

It means that the businesses in Minnesota that will remain closed are predominantly those that sell goods and services directly to customers, such as retail stores, albeit the likes of restaurants and bars are still able to offer curbside pick-up and delivery.

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What reopening businesses must do

As for non-customer-facing businesses that are now allowed to reopen, they must create a COVID-19 Preparedness Plan that sets out guidelines for social distancing, worker hygiene, building cleaning, and disinfection.

They must also health screen employees when they arrive each day – including by taking a temperature and asking about possible symptoms, as well as ensuring "that sick employees stay home." 

What's more, Walz and the DEED still want businesses to let employees work from home where possible.

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The Minnesota DEED has also set a series of "dos and don'ts" for returning to work.

Workers are allowed to interact while maintaining social distancing, conduct virtual meetings with colleagues, customers and suppliers, work a work stations provided there's adequate space between them, and follow a business's own plans for social distancing.

But they are not allowed to visit customers in their workplaces or homes, invite customers to workplaces, conduct meetings in conference rooms that have no social distancing, or work "right next to co-workers."

"This is a limited first step in the process of safely reopening some businesses and returning Minnesotans to work," said Department of Employment and Economic Development Commissioner Steve Grove. 

"We will continue to listen to and seek input from business and community leaders and work with public health experts on creative solutions to put more people back to work as safely and quickly as possible."

Since social distancing and community mitigation strategies were put in place, more than 530,000 people have applied for unemployment in Minnesota.

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