Two state legislators representing Douglas County criticized Gov. Tim Walz for not going far enough in allowing restaurants, churches and businesses to reopen during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Walz announced the next phases in his Stay Safe Plan on May 21, which he said takes a cautious, strategic turn of the dial to allow limited outdoor dining at restaurants and bars starting June 1.
The governor also announced salons and barbershops will be allowed to open June 1 at 25 percent occupancy to ensure the safety of both the employees and the customers inside.
In both industries, customers are either strongly recommended or required to wear masks, make reservations, and adhere to social distancing requirements to keep themselves, other customers, and employees safe.
While Walz’s order allows for limited in-person shopping for the first time in months, it maintains a 10-person cap on church attendance.
In his weekly column, State Rep. Paul Anderson, R-Starbuck, described the restrictions on churches as “a cause for wonder.”
“To me, churches would be one of the easiest locations in which to practice social distancing,” Anderson said. “Folks could be ushered into their seats and also ushered out to keep an orderly flow and reduce crowding. Even in the next phase of the governor's plan, a limit of 20 is placed on indoor worship. The online services offered by many churches so far have been good, but folks want their churches back and want to be able to worship in them.”
Anderson said Walz’s order raises several unanswered questions.
“Many locations don't currently have the space to offer outside service and may need to seek city approval in the form of a variance or conditional use permit to operate in this fashion,” Anderson said. “And for how long? And will they need to invest in outdoor furniture to make this work?
“Then, there are the logistics,” Anderson continued. “Imagine someone just getting their meal served and it starts raining. What do they do? Or what if someone needs to use the restroom? Are they going to be allowed to go inside? And even if this type of service works, operating at 50 percent of capacity will make it difficult to show a profit. And that is what these businesses need after going weeks without any cash flow.”
Anderson said another casualty of the shutdown is movie theatres. “They have been shuttered for weeks with no date mentioned for when they could re-open. The most recent plans announced were called Phase II, with the next phase still calling for them to be closed. It isn't until Phase IV when they would be allowed to re-open.”
State Rep. Mary Franson, R-Alexandria, issued a statement saying the governor doesn’t understand how people live life in her area, District 8B.
“He clearly does not understand that his policies are killing businesses and our way of life.” Franson said. “A business in my community, struggling to make their sales tax payment, requested a payment plan from the governor’s administration. If they wanted a payment plan, they would need to forfeit their liquor license. Our government is acting like the Mafia and our governor is acting like Tony Soprano.”