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Minnesota small business owners are preparing to reopen this week in opposition to COVID-19 restrictions put in place by Gov. Tim Walz last month following a surge in cases.
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The move comes as Walz weighs whether to reimpose a "dial back" order put in place on Nov. 20 for four weeks and which is set to expire on Friday. Walz is expected to announce the state's decision on Wednesday.
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Under the order, all social gatherings are prohibited and all bars and restaurants in the state are required to cease indoor and outdoor dining service and operate with takeout or delivery only. In addition, fitness centers were closed while sports practices and competitions were postponed.
Prior to the order, the Minnesota Department of Health confirmed over 193 outbreaks connected to social gatherings, events and wedding and funeral receptions. Additionally, over 221 total outbreaks were connected to patrons and employees of bars and restaurants. In the week after the order was put in place, the department confirmed over 30 additional outbreaks connected to the gatherings, bars, and restaurants.
The group, known as the ReOpen Minnesota Coalition, is calling on businesses in rural Minnesota to reopen Wednesday and for businesses in the Twin Cities metro area to reopen Friday. More than 150 businesses have pledged to participate.
“If you have been waiting to take a stand for something during COVID, now is the time that your voice can be heard,” the group said in a Facebook post last week.
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In a press conference on Friday, Walz addressed those who have plans to defy the order, noting that while he understands where small businesses are at, they also have to understand from the perspective of health workers.
"Every time we [defy orders], that makes their jobs harder," Walz said.
Minnesota Department of Health Assistant Commissioner Daniel Huff told FOX Business that while safe and effective vaccines are on the way, everyone has a personal responsibility to slow the spread of the pandemic and bring it to an end as quickly as possible.
"We appreciate that so many Minnesotans are doing their part. COVID-19 has impacted all of us, including small business owners, Huff said. "Despite those challenges, the vast majority are doing their best to help slow down the spread of the virus. They recognize that operating out of compliance with COVID-related requirements can put at risk the health of employees and customers, and we owe it to those businesses to have a consistent and fair enforcement approach for those requirements."
If cited by law enforcement, business owners caught violating the extended "dial back" order could be charged with a misdemeanor, and forced to pay a $1,000 fine, or face 90 days in jail.
The organization has set up a GoFundMe page asking for donations, which will be used for any legal expenses related to any documented legal trouble businesses face due to the protest. As of Tuesday evening, the page has raised more than $9,000 of its goal of $100,000.
Representatives for the ReOpen Minnesota Coalition and Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison did not immediately return FOX Business' requests for comment.
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The planned protest comes a day after the Minnesota Legislature voted 62-4 to approve a $216 million relief package, which includes $88 million in direct payments to restaurants, bars, and gyms; $14 million for convention centers and movie theaters; and $114.8 million for local economically significant businesses and organizations, including non-profits.
“Our small businesses have made enormous sacrifices to their own bottom lines for the good of our state. This is a critical lifeline for those businesses, and for the Minnesotans whose livelihoods depend on them,” Walz said in a press release. “This bipartisan bill will provide direct, targeted aid to keep our small businesses afloat, support workers struggling to get by, and help families put food on the table while we work to get the virus under control.”
ReOpen Minnesota Coaltion organizer Darius Teichroew called the relief package "a band-aid when a tourniquet is required."
"The last nine months have needlessly put small business owners and employees in the regrettable position of watching their dreams evaporate and families go without their basic needs," Teichrow said in a statement. "While we are glad to see some at the Capitol waking up to that reality, it is far too late to course-correct with half measures. A better approach would have been a complete revocation of Gov. Walz's emergency powers, but we are heartened that more House and Senate Democrats than ever have realized that he is far outstepping his constitutional powers and voted to end them yesterday."
The group argues that the governor's restrictions are "not supported by the data."
"We challenge the governor to admit when he’s wrong, show the humility required of any great leader, and change course from these failed policies," the coalition added. "Until such changes occur and these small businesses and their thousands of employees are treated humanely, they are left with little choice than to open safely this week. We know the vast majority of the public is behind these businesses, and we invite you all to support them this Christmas season as they give some measure of joy and peace to their families in this dark hour."
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MDH reported an additional 2,340 cases on Tuesday, bringing the statewide total to 384,164 cases. Twenty-one more Minnesotans died of COVID-19 as of Tuesday, for a total of 4,483.
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