ST. PAUL — State health officials don't yet have a target date for rolling back restrictions on businesses or opening classrooms to middle school and high school students, Gov. Tim Walz said Tuesday, Feb. 9.

Minnesota has reported a decline in new COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19 in recent weeks all while vaccinations against the illness have ramped up. And while those are positive changes, Walz and state health officials said they remained concerned about making changes while case rates remain in a "risk zone."

The comments about possible dial turns relative to the state's executive orders responding to the pandemic come as the business community and Republican lawmakers have mounted efforts to roll back restrictions and allow businesses and schools to resume with mitigation measures in place. And a day earlier, House Republicans put forth a May 1 goal to lift all business restrictions.

But it could take weeks for new infection rates and hospitalizations to stabilize at a level public health officials feel could prevent a spike that would overwhelm hospitals like one tracked in November, Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said.

"We do understand the desire for time specifics but part of the reason we're reluctant to do that we still, though our cases are way down from where they were in the November spike, we still are in a risk zone," Malcolm said. "We would like to see these numbers come down below the caution level."

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Malcolm said health officials were still working to track and isolate new variants of the illness and assess the success of vaccines in limiting or reducing new cases in long term care facilities. And that could require more time before shifting mitigation measures.

"It's still very hard to pick a date on a calendar and say, 'Boy, if these numbers hit this by that then that will be the formula,'" she continued.

Walz said he was still considering his next steps in adjusting rules for businesses but didn't immediately outline metrics he'd use to decide that.

“I know especially in the business sector, especially in schools, a date certain is what everybody wants,” Walz told reporters. “I don’t think you can ever set the date on this but I feel their sense of urgency."

At the Capitol, GOP senators advanced to the floor a pair of bills aimed at lifting restrictions on businesses and revisiting the governor's emergency powers while representatives in the House took up a DFL plan to set in law a mandate on facemasks in places of public accommodation.

A Senate committee on Tuesday advanced two proposals to the Senate floor: one that would allow businesses to open at full capacity as long as they had protocols in place to mitigate COVID-19 spread and another that would require both chambers of the Legislature to vote to approve any 30-day extension of the state's peacetime emergency.

Small business advocates said the plans would help provide more options for operators who'd struggled with the pandemic and the state's efforts to combat it. A spokeswoman for Minnesota AFL-CIO, meanwhile, said the plans could pose dangers for frontline workers.

The bills are among the latest pushed forward to chip away at Walz's executive orders and his authority to issue them. And they will face a tough road through the DFL-led House of Representatives.

Despite that, the measure's authors said business owners and concerned Minnesotans had urged them to act.

“Businesses want some certainty and don’t want to continue living in fear that at any time they could be caught off-guard again with another partial or full shutdown and many of them are hanging on by just a fingernail right now,” Sen. Andrew Mathews, R-Princeton, said. “We need to try to help people, give them a bit of certainty for them to be able to stay afloat as we continue to move forward in dealing with this pandemic.”

Follow Dana Ferguson on Twitter @bydanaferguson, call 651-290-0707 or email dferguson@forumcomm.com