Minnesota's statewide officials extended the peacetime emergency for another 30 days on Wednesday, citing the need to distribute the vaccine as quickly as possible as cases rise due to more infectious variants of COVID-19.

The Minnesota Executive Council, made up of all five Democratic statewide elected officials, voted unanimously for the extension.

"Two words: the vaccines and the variants. Both these dynamics are moving quickly," said Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm, addressing a morning meeting of the council. "The challenge is to keep moving as aggressively, and quickly and equitably … and getting immunizations to Minnesotans to try and keep pace with and even stay ahead of the case growth that we're seeing. That requires enormous nimbleness."

It's the 13th time the state has extended the peacetime emergency since last March — when the first COVID-19 cases were detected in Minnesota — and is easily the longest period the state has been in a state of emergency since World War II.

Gov. Tim Walz, who has wielded the emergency powers to issue statewide mask mandates and limit capacity in bars, restaurants and other venues, acknowledged concerns about using that power judiciously.

Republicans in the Senate have introduced several bills this session to curtail his powers to close down businesses and schools in a time of crisis.

"Our forbearers thought ahead pretty well, but I don't know if they could have anticipated a 14-month, ongoing emergency, so those questions are valid discussions," Walz said. "The implications of the ability to use these powers with the check of the executive council have made differences."

Briana Bierschbach • 651-925-5042

Twitter: @bbierschbach