While fears mount across the nation of COVID-19 outbreaks, some businesses continue to operate in the Brainerd lakes area amid closure orders from the office of Gov. Tim Walz.
Non-essential businesses have been under a closure order from Walz since March 17. That closure order has since been extended through May 4.
The order, however, is not without confusion. There are sometimes vague, but always evolving, definitions of what does and doesn’t constitute an essential industry.
As of the evening of Sunday, April 12, Risky Business in Brainerd remained open for business. Ronald Beattie, the owner of Risky Business, went so far as to observe that everyone else was closed, but advertised the fact Risky Business would be open until 10 p.m. on a March 17 Facebook post.
The Dispatch reached out to Risky Business on multiple occasions, but the line was busy. Based on conversations with residents who spoke with the Dispatch after contacting Risky Business — which bills itself as an outlet for adult lingerie, toys and accessories — its owner justified remaining open because Risky Business sells some food items and items related to sexual health.
By definition, Risky Business could be filed under the umbrella category “food,” which includes convenience stores, grocery stores and restaurants, because it does, in fact, sell edible products.
New clarifications and directives are tacked onto Walz’s order often on a daily, or even multiple times per day basis. Box stores like Best Buy — which could be characterized as an essential technology and communications company — are using curbside pickup, just as stores like Brainerd Floral and Dick’s Sporting Goods, whose necessity during a pandemic is less clear.
The Dispatch reached out to the Minnesota Department of Health, the Department of Employment and Economic Development, the Department of Commerce, and representatives of the Walz administration, but none of them were able to provide clarity beyond pointing to the same guidelines being frequently updated.
During a media teleconference March 30, Walz touched upon the advisory nature of the original stay at home order and noted the plan only works if Minnesotans as a whole are on board with isolating themselves, taking the proper precautions and slowing the spread of the virus. This is so COVID-19 doesn’t overwhelm a health care system ill-equipped to handle a pandemic.
Walz emphasized that, judging by the trajectory of the disease and the prognosis of federal health officials, the coronavirus has yet to peak in the United States or Minnesota.
As such, Walz advised residents and businesses to communicate with state officials and follow guidelines and executive orders from the Minnesota state government. Currently, all Minnesota residents who are considered non-essential are required to stay home, while all non-essential businesses are expected to remain closed until May 4. In particular, Walz advised residents to disregard employers if they feel they are forced to put their own health at risk, especially in cases of those with weakened immune systems or other complicating health factors. He urged them, and businesses, to contact state officials for guidance.
Minnesotans are expected to follow these guidelines of their own volition, Walz said on March 30, but noted the state government is prepared to follow through with its directives if necessary. The state has since imposed fines on businesses and individuals failing to comply with COVID-19 guidelines implemented by Minnesota.
“I know it’s a challenging time. The stay at home order was pretty straightforward for what we’re trying to do here. I keep saying with every meeting that the world’s going to look a little different a week from now,” Walz said. Then, later: “As for the employers, we’d hope that everyone’s better angels win out here, but we’re prepared to enforce these rules.”
In turn, Joe Kelly, director of the State Emergency Operations Center, praised Minnesotans for their compliance with Walz’s stay at home order. With March now in the books, the Minnesota Department of Public Safety reported traffic declined by 71% in rural areas and 79% in urban areas of the state during the month.
“I just wanted to give a heartfelt thank you for the compliance. Almost all Minnesotans are following the stay home order and we thank you,” Kelly said. “People staying at home are one of the key ways to stop the virus.”
Essential and non-essential
According to the Minnesota “Stay at Home” directive, industries, organizations and companies considered essential fall under the following categories:
Food, which includes grocery stores, farmers markets, food banks, convenience stores, bakeries as well as take-out and delivery from restaurants;
Child care providers;
Hardware stores; and
Or, for certain key industries, essential entities include communications, chemicals, commercial facilities, critical manufacturing, dams, defense industrial bases, emergency services, energy, financial, food and agriculture, government facilities, nuclear reactors, information technologies, water, transportation systems, as well as health care and public health.
According to the Minnesota “Stay at Home” directive, industries designated as non-essential businesses, organizations and industries required to be closed until May 4 include:
Bars and nightclubs,
Gyms and fitness studios,
Salons and barbershops, and