ST. PAUL — Minnesotans, we need to talk.
Yes, people are allowed to go outside during Gov. Tim Walz’s stay-at-home order to slow the advance of the coronavirus.
But Walz reminded the state’s residents on Wednesday, April 1, that even while outdoors, they should be giving each other a wide berth.
“This is certainly one of our bigger concerns because what we do know … is social distancing works and what we do know is that Minnesota has done a pretty good job, but I’m going to be the first to tell you — we need to continue to do better,” Walz said.
People who have concerns about violations of Walz’s executive order — which directs Minnesotans to limit their movements outside their homes through April 10 — are encouraged to reach out to their local law enforcement agency, but there’s also a state hotline and email address that people can contact if a dispute remains unresolved.
Approximately 500 reports of suspected violations have come in to the state. Most are complaints about businesses being open, such as bars and restaurants (delivery and carryout are allowed during this time). Another common report is neighbors not staying in their homes.
Local agencies are notified about reported violations in their jurisdiction. Walz’s focus is on education and voluntary compliance with the executive order, though an intentional violation is technically a misdemeanor.
“It was not our intention to have our first responders out there … breaking up basketball games or telling people to walk farther apart, but we need to continue to get the word out,” Walz said Wednesday. “… The more we do this, the more lives we save. The more we do this, the better chance we have to get out of this sooner, I believe, because we will start to catch up with some of the testing and the isolation of the people who most need it.”
Cities field complaints
Walz’s executive order states that people may engage in outdoor activities — such as walking, hiking, running, biking, hunting or fishing — and can go to available public parks, as long as they remain at least 6 feet apart from people from other households.
After the order went in effect over the weekend, the city of Edina received “many complaints and reports of large group gatherings, close-contact ball games and lack of social distancing,” said city manager Scott Neal.
The city announced that group activities, such as basketball and soccer, are now not allowed in an effort to help stop the spread of COVID-19.
Stillwater Mayor Ted Kozlowski wrote on Facebook on Wednesday that, as he drives around town, he sees many large groups of kids and adults playing games and sports. If police come across large groups, they’re asking them to disperse, Kozlowski posted, adding that he doesn’t want officers to be in a position of having to issue citations.
In St. Paul, police have received a handful of complaints, mostly about people gathering to play sports in the parks. Officers have not issued citations regarding the governor’s order, according to a department spokesman.
Woodbury Public Safety is receiving a handful of calls a day about social distancing issues, and the city in general has received a number of emails and calls.
“Everything from reports (of) persons using play structures (which the city has advised against) to groups playing basketball,” Cmdr. John Altman wrote. “Other complaints are about people not abiding by social distancing expectations while shopping.”
Signs to tout social distancing
The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board and park police “have been flooded with reports of park users disregarding social distancing guidelines by crowding popular park locations and trails, not staying 6 feet apart, and participating in team sports and group activities,” the board said in a statement Wednesday.
In St. Paul, public school playgrounds remain closed, while city playgrounds are open.
St. Paul Parks and Recreation ordered about 500 lawn signs on Wednesday, in six different languages, which will be placed at parks and playgrounds to reiterate that people need to maintain social distance.
At St. Paul athletic fields, staff have tethered soccer goals together or put them against exterior fences, for example, so they can’t be used for the time being.
Parks and Rec director Mike Hahm cautioned people about making assumptions — he said some people going to public spaces are coming from large households, so they may be in a large group.
Hahm said he’s heard it stated that “our parks and our environment are the lungs of the city.”
“It’s more important than ever that people get out and take advantage of those things, but they do it in a safe way,” Hahm said.
It’s recommended that people with concerns about violations of the stay-at-home order contact their local law enforcement agency. If a dispute is unresolved, there is a state hotline at 651-793-3746 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mary Divine contributed to this report.