ST. PAUL — Minnesota is "bracing for a storm of epic proportions" as it navigates the impacts of the coronavirus, and some of the worst are yet to come, Gov. Tim Walz said Sunday, April 5.
But the governor during his second State of the State address said he believed Minnesotans were up for the challenge and thanked them for their efforts to limit the spread of COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus.
During the 12-minute speech from the governor's residence basement, Walz noted the severity of the threat posed by COVID-19 and likened the pandemic to an especially brutal winter that Minnesotans will have to prepare for and fight through before emerging into spring. Walz delivered the address by video from the governor's residence because he has remained in self-quarantine after exposure to a security guard who tested positive for COVID-19.
"These last few weeks have been difficult — and it’s only going to get harder. Long hours of darkness are ahead," Walz said. "It’s going to be a cold winter. How do we get through a cold winter? We get through it together, as one Minnesota."
The comments came hours after the Minnesota Department of Health reported that the number of Minnesotans who tested positive for COVID-19 reached 935 and 29 died from the illness or from complications. In total, 26,777 people in the state had been tested for the virus as of Sunday.
He noted the financial and emotional toll of the state's orders to close down schools, restaurants, areas of public amusement and other businesses and said until more is known about COVID-19 and how to prevent it, the best course of action is to limit the illness's potential spread.
The executive orders have roiled the state's economy. Since March 16, more than 320,000 Minnesotans filed for unemployment insurance, the highest rate ever recorded.
At the same time, the constraints have helped limit the strain on Minnesota hospitals and have provided the state more time to build up supplies and intensive care unit beds that likely will be needed when the state sees a peak in COVID-19 cases, Walz said.
"Minnesotans are hardworking people who step in to help. In many storms, that means plowing out your neighborhood, filing sandbags or trudging through the snow to check on your loved ones. Now that means staying home. What you are doing isn’t paralysis — it’s action," Walz said. "Staying home is the only vaccine we have right now."
State lawmakers have approved and the governor has signed into law more than $550 million in COVID-19 aid funding to date. And legislative leaders said additional funds would likely be needed to address the crisis and the blow to the state's economy expected to follow.
Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, ahead of the address said he was prepared to work with the governor on additional legislation and funding needed to address the crisis. Gazelka said he hoped the governor would consider expanding allowed work under the stay-at-home order to include outdoor work with proper social distancing and golf as an allowable outdoor activity.
"We have to face this thing together," Gazelka said. "We want the governor to be successful and we want the president to be successful. It doesn't matter whether you're Republicans or Democrats, they have to succeed."
Walz has said he is considering extending the stay-at-home order beyond the April 10 end date and expanding some of the restrictions under it.
While Republicans said they were especially concerned about getting the state's economy up and running as soon it is safe and possible to do so, Democratic leaders said their top concern was addressing the threat of the pandemic.
“We are here, we’re ready to work. We’re ready to help Minnesotans and we’re ready to help the governor," House Speaker Melissa Hortman, D-Brooklyn Park, said. "We can take care of the economy when we're through the public health crisis moment."
Lawmakers are set to return to the Capitol April 14 to pass another round of COVID-19 response legislation and said they could approve another aid package sooner if proposals could generate bipartisan support.
The governor on Sunday requested federal relief funding to help the state respond to COVID-19's spread and economic impact in the state. Eight of the state's congressional delegates on Sunday urged the Trump administration to approve a disaster declaration for the state and potential pandemic relief.
While the pandemic presents an unprecedented challenge, Walz said Minnesotans had found ways to help one another amid the new normal. And he said the state was strong, resilient and united in its efforts to battle COVID-19.
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