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Updates on the Stay at Home Order, the Courts and More during the COVID-19 Emergency Response

Apr 24, 2020 09:18AM ● By Editor

County Connections:  By County Attorney Molly Hicken from Cook County MN - April 24, 2020


 County Attorney Molly Hicken.  Photo:  Cook County MN


This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice, nor does it contain a full description of all allowed or prohibited activities. For the full text of all executive orders, visit the governor’s website at mn.gov/governor/news.

Since Minnesota Governor Tim Walz declared a Peacetime Emergency related to the COVID-19 pandemic on March 13, the emergency-related guidance and mandates have been rapidly  and frequently changing. The governor has issued more than thirty executive orders which modify state rules, set up relief programs, and restrict activity, all designed to protect Minnesotans from the harms caused by coronavirus. These directives blend with guidance from local authorities and state agencies such as the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the Minnesota Judicial Branch. County officials are fielding questions daily from residents and visitors about how they and their neighbors should be acting during this emergency. This article aims to address some of the topics most relevant to Cook County.

I got a jury notice  – am I going to serve? Or… I have business with the courts  – will it happen?

Court operations continue despite the physical closure of many courthouses across the state. Jury trials for cases deemed a “low priority” have mostly been rescheduled for later dates or indefinitely to avoid bringing jurors in proximity to each other and to court staff. Your obligations as a juror are different depending on whether you are summoned for a trial in federal court (Duluth) or in state district court (Grand Marais). Many hearings indefinitely rescheduled at the beginning of the COVID-19 emergency are being put back on the docket as the courts continue to develop the technology required for remote virtual appearances and to relax the rules for personal appearances. People may file court pleadings, including those related to emergency protective orders, electronically through “Minnesota Guide and File,” and drop off forms at the courthouse drop box. To get the latest and best information on state court operations contact Cook County Court Administration at (218) 387-3665 or go to www.mncourts.gov.

The neighboring property is rented out to out-of-town guests  – isn't this illegal under the governor’s "Stay at Home" Order?

No, but it’s strongly discouraged. The high number of non-homestead properties in Cook County has led some to question, “What does ‘Home’ mean under the governor’s order?” Executive Order 20-20 broadly defines what a person’s residence is and does not make it illegal to rent out a second home or to travel to Cook County for an overnight trip. However, according to public health officials, what you can do and what you should do are two different things. Each individual maintains their personal freedom to travel to a cabin or across state lines for an overnight stay, but the governor has published his strongest language yet on this topic in  Executive Order 20-38, Allowing for Safe Outdoor Recreation. The order advises that, "Minnesotans should stay close to home and are strongly discouraged from unnecessary travel, including long-distance travel to engage in outdoor recreational activities and travel to and from cabins, commercial lodging, and vacation homes or rentals." On March 24, Cook County acted consistently with such guidance when it issued its Travel Advisory discouraging such travel. Vacation rentals not part of a hotel or resort must still comply with state and local law, including the county’s new licensing requirements. See www.co.cook.mn.us for more information. Frequently asked questions about Executive Order 20-20, Directing Minnesotans to Stay at Home, can be found at mn.gov/governor/covid-19/faq.

I saw a trailhead parking mostly full -- isn't that a violation of “Stay at Home” and "Social Distancing" recommendations?

Not likely. Nearly every state emergency mandate which restricts Minnesotans has also encouraged us to engage in physical activity outside for its benefits to mental and physical health. The caveat is that we are urged (not required) to “stay close” to our primary residences and practice “social distancing” while being active outdoors. Effective April 18, Minnesotans may travel to and from and engage in outdoor activity “that is dependent upon or derives its principal benefit from natural surroundings and open space.” This includes “hunting, fishing, trapping, boating, hiking, biking, golfing, and picnicking for the purposes of pleasure, rest, exercise, or relaxation,” provided one can do so with at least six feet of separation between participants from different households. Individuals “must not” engage in outdoor recreational activities where they will come into close proximity with others from different households. Recently, Governor Walz added the condition that the public must follow the Outdoor Recreation Guidelines published by the DNR. (See www.dnr.state.mn.us.

Which outdoor recreation operations in the county are allowed?

Since first ordering certain businesses deemed “non-critical,” including bars, restaurants and “other places of public accommodation,” temporarily closed due to COVID-19 on March 16, the governor’s office has tweaked and modified its directive several times. The governor recently clarified what types of “outdoor recreational facilities” are affected by the closure order. While most indoor facilities  which are a part of these must remain closed(regularly-cleaned bathrooms excluded), the following may remain open so long as they comply with the Outdoor Recreation Guidelines(see below): parks and trails; public water accesses, marinas and docks, and facilities providing safety-related services to those using them; golf courses and driving ranges; shops which repair and sell off-highway vehicles, snowmobiles and watercraft by appointment only; lake service providers who install/remove and repair docks and other water related equipment; bait shops; and other outdoor recreation facilities that may be designated in the Outdoor Recreation Guidelines. For information on boundary waters permits and federally managed campgrounds, go to recreation.gov.

 

County Connections is a column on timely topics and service information from your Cook County government. Cook County – Supporting Community Through Quality Public Service

 

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