MINNEAPOLIS — Partisan tempers flared over Minnesota's response to the COVID-19 outbreak Thursday as Republicans expressed frustration with Democratic Gov. Tim Walz for extending his stay-at-home order through May 4 and questioned the modeling behind his decision.
GOP Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka expressed dismay a day after Walz issued an extension that allowed certain categories of employees to return to work but maintained closures of bars, restaurants and other businesses deemed non-essential. About 80% of Minnesota employees are exempt.
"I do not approve of the Governor's unilateral decision to continue the order to shelter at home until May 4th. We have to get on with our lives," tweeted Gazelka, the state's top elected Republican.
In a separate tweet, Gazelka disputed the updated modeling data that Walz used Wednesday as justification for extending his order, suggesting that it's unduly pessimistic.
"Gov Walz expecting up to 5,000 people in ICU this June," he tweeted. "New York State has less than 5,000 people in the ICU TODAY! NY has 19.5 million people to our 5.6 million. We have around 3000 beds available. We are ready for the surge now. Why shut MN business down for a NY sized surge?"
Walz said on his daily conference call with reporters that he's listening to top experts and using the latest available data.
"I want people back to work as badly as anybody does," Walz said, citing advice from the Mayo Clinic, the Centers for Disease Control, other health organizations and the example of 42 other states with similar restrictions. "I hope that I am as wrong as I can be on the need for those beds, but all of the data shows me that I cannot risk that at this time."
The Minnesota Department of Health reported 11 new deaths from COVID-19 on Thursday, the state's largest one-day increase since the pandemic began, raising the state's total to 50. The department also reported 88 new confirmed cases Thursday for a total of 1,242.
The department has conducted the modeling with experts at the University of Minnesota. Amid increasing pressure, the department has scheduled a presentation on modeling for reporters Friday.
Walz said the various models the state considers, including a more optimistic model from the University of Washington increasingly cited by Republicans, are not meant to predict deaths, but trends and loads on the health care system.
The top Republican in the Minnesota House, Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, urged "maximum transparency" and called for the full release of all the modeling data and assumptions driving the Walz administration's decisions.
"Every day legislators are fielding dozens of calls from families and business owners whose lives have been turned upside-down as a result of decisions based on modeling data that has not yet been released to the public," Daudt said in a statement. "It would be helpful for Minnesotans to see for themselves the data informing the Governor's executive orders — not just a few summary slides."
Walz said Republicans have the right to question his decisions but disputed that he's made them unilaterally.
"I don't think deliberating in a crisis by tweet is the way to go." he said.