Pete’s Retreat and Campground in Malmo

Pete’s Retreat and Campground in Malmo had season campsites filled as of last week. The campsites, according to co-owner Alyssa Boser, are spaced 30 feet apart and socially distanced.

Gov. Tim Walz said May 13 he will let his stay-at-home order expire as scheduled May 18, though he’ll leave key restrictions in place to keep up Minnesota’s fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Don’t get me wrong — we believe that the safest place we can be is at home,” Walz said in a televised address. “But we know we can’t continue like this forever.”

Walz made the announcement after health officials released updated modeling — couched in caveats — that showed the potential effects of various scenarios he could have chosen. The Democratic governor has been under increasing political pressure to loosen up the restrictions, and some business owners have threatened defiance if they remain in place.

Walz said his new order brings back some of the social interactions “that are so important in life.”

But the governor said in a statement, “This is not the time for sudden movements.”

“We are not flipping a switch and going back to normal all at once. We are slowly moving a dial and introducing more interaction between people over time,” Walz said.

While the stay-at-home order will expire, the changes he announced amount to only a gradual relaxation of the state’s restrictions. Bars, restaurants, and other places where people gather in large numbers won’t be allowed to reopen for business as usual just yet. But gatherings of 10 people or fewer such as family celebrations will be allowed. Retailers that had been shuttered as nonessential will be allowed to reopen with restrictions on how many people can be allowed inside.

Under Walz’s new “Stay Safe MN” order, Minnesotans still will be asked to stay close to home and limit themselves to essential travel. An additional executive order allows retail stores, malls and Main Street businesses to reopen for in-store shopping if they have social distancing in place for workers and customers and are at no more than 50% occupant capacity.

Meanwhile, local businesses began moving back toward normalcy. Alissa Boser, the co-owner of Pete’s Retreat and Campground in Malmo, said that the campground is now open at limited capacity.

Boser participated in a phone conference with Rep. Pete Stauber on May 8 regarding the impact of COVID-19 on the hospitality industry. She said she was able to share comments and opinions regarding how the pandemic is affecting seasonal campgrounds like Pete’s Retreat – and other small businesses in Malmo.

She said last week that the campground has developed internal protocols to insure that customers and employees are safe, including extra sanitization, hand sanitizer in each building, canceled activities when needed and the pool and game room remaining closed.

There are frustrations, however.

“There is no more risk to be a weekender camper versus a seasonal camper,” Boser said. “Right now, Gov. Walz has ordered that campgrounds can only be open to seasonal campers. The only difference is you either bring your camper with you, and bring it home each time, or you leave your camper on the premises as a seasonal camper.”

Boser said she is focused on advocating for campgrounds like hers, because she feels they can safely be open.

The Department of Employment and Economic Development estimates the change will allow up to 37,000 more workers to return to work over the next several weeks.

“Malls will be open,” Walz told reporters. But he added, “We certainly don’t want people hanging out in the food court and doing things.” Walz also directed his cabinet to come up with ways to safely reopen bars, restaurants, barbershops and salons starting June 1.

The governor also extended his peacetime emergency declaration until June 12. The emergency declaration gives Walz continued authority to take steps without legislative approval to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, a Republican from East Gull Lake, said he supported Walz’s decision to lift the stay-at-home order.

“We’re moving in the right direction,” Gazelka said in a video. “Now it’s up to us, you and me, to practice safe distancing. I have every confidence we’re going to be able to do it. Minnesota is back on track.”

Minnesota Chamber President Doug Loon called Walz’s decision to end the stay-at-home order “welcome news for businesses throughout the state who are eager to get our economy moving again.” But House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, a Republican from Crown, said Walz’s decision to lift his stay-at-home order comes too late for some Minnesota businesses, “and their doors will never reopen.”

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