ST. PAUL — Gov. Tim Walz on Wednesday, April 29, said he would announce the next steps for Minnesota's plans to limit the spread of COVID-19, including a potential extension of a stay-at-home order set to elapse Monday.

The governor told reporters, pork producers and others gathered at a news conference in Worthington that he would lay out a plan to reopen more businesses Thursday and more broadly explain what orders would carry over next week and beyond.

The comment came the same day a group of small business owners sued the state over Walz's executive orders, which they said violated business owners' constitutional rights. Owners of seven businesses and a group called the Free Minnesota Small Business Coalition joined a complaint filed in the Minnesota Court of Appeals alleging the designations of essential or nonessential businesses under Walz's stay-at-home order violated the business owners' constitutional rights under the U.S. Equal Protection Clause.

Walz's original order was set to run from March 27 to April 10 and has since been extended to Monday, May 4. The governor said the order was needed to help the state build up intensive care unit capacity and personal protective equipment ahead of an expected peak in COVID-19 cases.

"We're going to continue on this pace of moving Minnesota into more opening if we can continue to show what we're doing of social distancing, handling it that way and the state stepping up to be able to do the testing," Walz said. "Just throwing the doors open doesn’t fix it."

State Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said the new guidance would still require social distancing and limit gatherings to members of one's household and restrict travel around the state. Commissioners on a daily briefing call didn't say whether restaurants or salons would be allowed to reopen under the new order.

And Walz said large gatherings at stadiums or crowded bars would likely be some of the last settings to be allowed to reopen.

Small businesses file lawsuit challenging executive orders

Frustrated by orders that shuttered their businesses and devastated their finances, a group of small business owners on Wednesday pushed back on the Walz administration by filing a lawsuit against the state.

The business owners through their attorney argued that the state didn't have the authority to broadly categorize businesses and order some to close while allowing others to remain open.

Larvita McFarquhar owns Southwest School of Dance, a small dance and gymnastics studio in Marshall that has been closed under the governor's orders restricting public gatherings and shuttering gyms and places of public amusement. McFarquhar has guidance on how to safely reopen and said she signed onto the lawsuit in hopes she'll be able to reopen. She said reopening would help her support her family financially and again allow her to exercise her rights.

"We’ve been completely shut down so we can’t make a living doing what we love to do," McFarquhar said. "[The lawsuit] is just really about trying to let Gov. Walz know we’re not going to just sit by and let him shut down something that we've worked hard for."

Attorney General Keith Ellison and other state officials have defended the governor's authority to issue the orders under the peacetime emergency fueled by the COVID-19 pandemic. And Walz said the orders have been issued to help contain the disease's spread and to protect the health of Minnesotans.

Department of Employment and Economic Development Commissioner Steve Grove and Walz on Wednesday said state officials were talking with small business leaders around the state about how to allow them to safely reopen but didn't feel it was safe yet to allow all to do so.

"We are sympathetic to this case and we know small businesses are really struggling and we're doing all that we can to help them get through this," Grove said.

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