ST. PAUL — Nearly one month after he ordered nonessential businesses to close because of the coronavirus pandemic, Gov. Tim Walz on Friday, April 17 gave golf courses and shooting ranges across Minnesota the OK to reopen.
Walz's latest executive order allows them to resume business beginning at 5 a.m. on Saturday, April 18. Outdoor equipment retailers and rental centers remain closed, however, as do campgrounds.
"It’s important for us to stay active and enjoy the outdoors while preventing the spread of COVID-19," Walz said in a statement. "This measure will allow Minnesotans to take advantage of more opportunities to get outside, while still doing their part to keep their neighbors healthy."
The statement Walz's office sent to the media on Friday advised patrons of newly reopened outdoor recreation businesses to continue practicing social distancing, such as staying 6 feet apart from one another. The order allows outdoor shooting ranges, game farms, public and private parks and trails, golf courses, driving ranges, boating and off-road vehicle services to reopen or remain open.
Minnesotans were already able to venture outside to hunt, fish, walk and run under the stay at home order Walz previously issued, though they have been asked to do so close to their homes. State parks have likewise been open throughout the pandemic, save for their campgrounds.
Dock and marina services were given state approval Monday, April 13 to begin work after the state Department of Employment and Economic Development deemed them exempt from the stay at home order, as were bait dealers and bait harvesters.
The Minnesota Golf Association cheered for the return of the sport in a web post Friday, but cautioned players to be mindful when heading back to the fairway. The group, which is comprised of more than 400 golf courses and 66,000 golfers, is urging members to not share clubs and pay their green fees online, among other things, to avoid health risks.
"As we play golf, we must remember that these are unusual times and we have to do what’s best for the health of our families and communities. Do not be the one to jeopardize the privilege of playing this great game for your fellow golfers," the group said.
Walz told reporters earlier this week that he was considering whether to reopen golf courses and allow other outdoor activities to resume. His order Friday came amid growing calls from state Republican lawmakers to reopen parts of Minnesota's economy, swaths of which are shut down in an effort to limit the spread of COVID-19.
"I hope this is just a first step that paves the way for other businesses to open in a way that protects the health and safety of employees," House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said in a statement.
State health authorities said the illness, which is caused by the novel coronavirus, has sickened a total of 2,071 people in Minnesota as of Friday. They confirmed 159 new cases of the disease that morning.
More than 1,000 of the infected have recovered and been declared to no longer require isolation. Still, 111 have so far died from the disease and 223 remain hospitalized.
That didn't stop hundreds of Minnesotans from throwing social distancing guidelines to the wind on Friday when they surrounded the Governor's Residence in protest. Throngs of people could be seen standing shoulder-to-shoulder on the sidewalks outside of the gubernatorial abode, waving flags and signs as they demanded Walz lift business and social restrictions currently in place.
Similar protests took place in other states in recent days, with demonstrators seemingly earning the support of President Donald Trump. In a series of tweets, Trump on Monday called for the "liberation" of Michigan, Minnesota and Virginia, states whose Democratic governors have ordered emergency restrictions similar to Minnesota's and that are viewed as potential battleground states in the 2020 presidential contest.
LIBERATE MINNESOTA!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 17, 2020
Reporters Dana Ferguson and John Myers contributed to this report.