As confirmed COVID-19 cases mount, Minnesota has acted swiftly to both contain the outbreak and stem accompanying economic damage.
Minnesotans should be proud that they have, for the most part, faced this new danger forthrightly and with little drama. Some of the actions the state has taken have become a model for other states.
Gov. Tim Walz was among the first to declare food supply workers as Tier 2 emergency workers, making them eligible for child care even after schools closed. That may be one reason why Minnesota’s grocers are fairly well-stocked, with only spot shortages.
Lifting restrictions on unemployment is a lifeline for the thousands who have suddenly found themselves jobless. Department of Employment and Economic Development Commissioner Steve Grove told an editorial writer that 110,000 claims were expected by week’s end. A year ago this time, that weekly figure would have been about 2,000.
On Friday, Walz enacted a badly needed executive order banning price-gouging during the pandemic. That also protects Minnesotans and can serve to quell panic-buying. Also, the uninsured now will have a special window to sign up for subsidized state health insurance.
These are the kinds of actions a state can take to protect its population. School districts are providing meals. School bus drivers are delivering them. The YMCA is providing emergency child care.
This is how a state pulls together. And yet, the pain here is real, and there are no assurances it will be short-term. That makes it all the more important to observe the limits leaders here and elsewhere are being forced to order.
Senate Republicans recently challenged Walz’s authority to relax unemployment insurance requirements and order business closures. We understand their frustration and worry. But this is a public health crisis. Attorney General Keith Ellison has said that so far Walz’s actions all fall within his authority. Of course, legislative leaders must be part of long-term responses. But in the meantime, the paramount goal must be protecting life and health.
The public should also keep in mind that there are limits to what a state can do on its own. The lack of tests, medical equipment and protective gear is maddening and dangerous. The federal government simply must do more to partner with and assist states.
Minnesota does have a couple of distinct advantages heading into this crisis. The state’s health system is among the best in the country. Quick work by Mayo has resulted in additional testing capacity. More is needed, but that is a start.
Walz told an editorial writer that he is in talks with Mayo on tests, 3M on masks and other companies that might help with needed medical supplies. While communication with the federal government, sadly, has been less than ideal, with too little information and too much confusion, state leaders are working together across partisan lines.
“Democratic and Republican governors alike,” Walz said, “are in constant contact, trading information and help.”
Minnesota also heads into this crisis with full budget reserves, thanks to the discipline and foresight of its lawmakers. That will give this state more capacity to fill in whatever cracks are left once the feds pass their response package.
Immense creativity is emerging in this crisis that could serve the state well once the storm passes. Emergency workarounds today may point the way to a state that functions better and protects more of its citizens in the future.
In the meantime, cooperation, patience, kindness and caring for one another will go a long way toward bringing as many Minnesotans through this as safely as possible.