by Scott McClallen
On Wednesday night, Gov. Tim Walz introduced sweeping four-week restrictions to combat COVID-19, sparking outcry from restaurant groups and Republicans warning of the inevitable economic fallout.
The restrictions start on 11:59 p.m. Friday and stretch until Dec. 18. Among the restrictions are prohibitions on in-person social gatherings with anyone of another household; limiting restaurants and bars to offer take-out and delivery only; and shuttering gyms, fitness studios and event spaces.
“I know that hospitalizations are going to continue to go up for the next few weeks and I know that the death numbers will continue to go up for the next few weeks,” Walz said. “But the bright spot of this is, the moves we take now will start to bend at just the time when the potential for a vaccine is coming. That’s what’s different, Minnesota, this time.”
Walz argued the action’s target where COVID-19 is spreading: in places where people gather for long periods and may not be wearing masks consistently.
However, retail businesses, salons, places of worship, and childcare centers aren’t affected.
Schools will continue under either in-person, distance, or hybrid learning depending on the spread of COVID-19.
Just like the initial lockdown, these restrictions aim to prevent the hospital system from being overwhelmed. But this time, there’s little state or federal aid available to keep businesses forced closed afloat.
With the state facing a $4.7 billion budget deficit for fiscal years 2022-23 and a mandate to balance its budget, Walz called on the federal government for another bailout.
Hospitality Minnesota President and CEO Liz Rammer said the restrictions “will push many small restaurants, food service and other hospitality businesses over the cliff.”
Rammer called for immediate financial assistance to the state’s hospitality industry.
Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association Executive Director Tony Chesak called the news “heartbreaking,” noting the abrupt restrictions will force restaurants’ inventory to spoil.
“The state and federal government both need to take steps to aid employees and the hospitality industry with relaxed regulations, direct financial support, unemployment assistance, and loans to get through this dark winter,” Chesak said in a statement. “‘In this together’ can’t be merely a slogan or our state will see devastating economic fallout on the other end of this pandemic.”
House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, supported the “tough” order and called for a federal bailout “as soon as possible.”
Minnesotan Republicans were skeptical of the new restrictions. Although they emphasized COVID-19 should be taken seriously, they questioned the collateral damage of lockdowns.
State Senator Eric Pratt, R-Prior Lake, argued the state already tried a 51-day lockdown, [B]ut it seems like the only thing they accomplished was to wipe out Main Street small businesses and eliminate thousands of jobs.”
“If the governor has evidence the last lockdown actually worked – not just correlation or speculation, but hard evidence, he should be transparent and show us,” Pratt said in a statement.
The New House Republican Caucus called the new restrictions “ill-advised and extremely harmful.”
“Make no mistake, this is nothing more than another unconstitutional shutdown of businesses and family activities,” they said in a statement. “Instead of giving Minnesotans the tools to weather the current economic hardships, Governor Walz has unilaterally decided to put people out of work.”
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Scott McClallen is a staff writer covering Michigan and Minnesota for The Center Square. A graduate of Hillsdale College, his work has appeared on Forbes.com and FEE.org. Previously, he worked as a financial analyst at Pepsi.