Editorial roundup: Wave is rising against business restrictions
Published 8:12 pm Friday, December 11, 2020
A group of Minnesota bar and restaurant owners trying to survive the pandemic shutdown is talking of defying state executive orders and have called for others to join them in opening up next week in possible violation of those orders.
A coalition of fitness centers has begun making its case as well, pointing to facts on the spread of COVID-19 coming from gyms as minimal and offering to open up at just 10 percent capacity if necessary.
Both developments suggest that support for continual shutdowns of bars and restaurants and fitness centers has begun to wane. It suggests the businesses are getting more desperate as they face further, significant financial harm or the prospects of closing.
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In Mankato, some restaurants have stopped doing even the limited pickup and takeout business allowed under the shutdown, saying it just doesn’t pay.
Gov. Tim Walz is expected to announce Friday or Monday on whether he will extend the bar and restaurant and gym shutdown beyond its planned expiration date of Dec. 18.
There appears to be a growing sentiment that he should let the shutdown expire.
But Walz and the Minnesota Department of Health have always said their goal is to rely on the data of cases and spread to determine the risk of allowing some businesses to stay open. They’ve also acknowledged there needs to be a balance between public health and economic health.
Anecdotally, it appears more and more businesses are taking on more and more water. The Star Tribune has reported “dozens” of restaurants have closed permanently this year and the trade group Hospitality Minnesota worried nearly half could close permanently when the latest shutdown was imposed in early November.
The data on cases, spread and hospitalizations is clear enough, with a few nuances that raise important questions.
The group that wants businesses to reopen, the Facebook Group Reopen Minnesota Coalition, is suggesting bars and restaurants in rural areas open next Wednesday with metro area bars opening Friday, the day the executive order expires. It has already signed up 80 bars willing to open.
This is a problem for Walz. If it happens, his administration will be in the unenviable position of nightly news showing the shutdown by authorities bars and restaurants. If the Walz administration foregoes enforcement, it will lose credibility and the floodgates will open.
We believe the Walz administration should carefully consider letting the shutdown order expire.
The numbers still point to a near-capacity, if declining, hospital utilization. After a significant spike in cases a few weeks ago, that number is also declining. Health department officials still point to spread from restaurants and bars and gyms, but the data is less than absolute. There are cracks.
The health department attributes 58 percent of the spread to “unknown sources.” Statewide the percent of positive cases has been going down since Nov. 17. The seven-day average of new cases has also been on the decline since that time.
Health officials say they remain wary of a spike in cases due to people gathering for Thanksgiving. It is a valid concern.
But at some point, the scales may need to favor economic health. Let’s not forget, people can make free choices about going out to bars and restaurants. And in significant outbreaks, the health department identifies those bars and restaurants, thereby providing consumers with more information.
And even Walz has noted that with a vaccine on the way, there is light at the end of this tunnel. But businesses who have been suffering may never see that light again if restrictions mount much more.
— Mankato Free Press, Dec. 7