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The COVID-19 virus has accomplished something in Minnesota that 60-degree below zero windchills, Olympic curling on TV, and the alluring aroma of homemade lutefisk cannot: forcing Minnesotans to stay home.

On March 25, 2020, Governor Tim Walz issued Emergency Executive Order 20-20, making  Minnesota one of the latest states to issue a “shelter in place” directive. Governor Walz had delayed any such orders until now to allow sufficient time to collect and analyze data from other states and countries. Ultimately, the order is very similar to those issued in other jurisdictions. To summarize, the order directs all Minnesotans to “stay at home or in their place of residence” except to engage in certain specified activities or to perform “critical sector” work that cannot be performed at home. The order goes into effect at 11:59 p.m. on March 27, 2020, and expires at 5:00 p.m. on April 10, unless extended by further order.

Exempt non-work activities under the order include relocation to ensure safety, health and safety activities (e.g., medical appointments), outdoor activities consistent with social distancing, obtaining necessary supplies and services, essential intrastate and interstate travel, providing care for others, moving to and between homeless shelters, and tribal activities on reservations.

The list of “critical sectors” exemptions includes employees in 35 categories, many with sub-categories.  Workers in those categories “who are performing work that cannot be done at their home or residence through telework or virtual work”, may travel to and from work, and/or to perform work they cannot do at their home or residence. “Travel may include transportation to and from childcare or school settings as necessary.” The categories include workers in the following industries:

  • Healthcare
  • Law enforcement, public safety, and first responders
  • Food and agriculture
  • Energy
  • Water
  • Transportation
  • Public works
  • Communications and information technology
  • Government
  • Critical manufacturing
  • Hazardous materials
  • Financial services
  • Chemical
  • Defense industrial base
  • Tribal governments
  • The three branches of state government
  • Federal government
  • National guard
  • Clergy
  • Education (although public schools remain closed under Executive Order 20-02)
  • Construction and critical trades
  • Child care
  • Hotels, residential facilities, and shelters
  • Charitable and social service organizations
  • Certain “essential” legal services
  • Notaries
  • Labor union operations for critical sectors
  • Laundry services
  • Animal shelters and veterinarians
  • Real estate transactions
  • Essential supply stores.

For several categories, the order references the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) Guidance on the Essential Critical Infrastructure Workforce for further clarification.

The order further states that allowed activities should be conducted in adherence with “the guidelines set forth and maintained by the Minnesota Department of Health . . . including but not limited to social distancing to the maximum extent possible.” In addition, the order urges “elderly people and those with underlying health conditions” to stay home even when the list of exempted activities and occupations would otherwise permit them to leave.

Willful violations of the order carry criminal penalties—specifically, a misdemeanor punishable “by a fine not to exceed $1,000 or by imprisonment for up to 90 days.”


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