A small, bipartisan group of state legislators encouraged Minnesotans on Monday to pledge to take personal steps to curb the spread of the coronavirus as the holidays approach.
The new public education campaign, announced on Zoom, encourages individuals to wear masks, limit social gatherings and take other actions to reduce exposure, regardless of their political views.
“It’s important to recognize that Republicans and Democrats don’t have to fight about everything, just some things,” said Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington. “As we’re going forward with COVID-19, it’s really going to take cooperation from all of us to make a difference and defeat this.”
Organizers said roughly 40 of the state’s 201 legislators signed the pledge, but they declined to share a full list of names or provide a partisan breakdown of the group. Two of the six legislators participating in Monday’s news conference were members of the GOP.
The push comes as doctors and officials across the state grapple with a rise in cases and hospitalizations that has left many medical providers at or near capacity for critical care beds.
DFL Rep. Kelly Morrison, a medical doctor, said that a lack of beds and growing cases and exposure among health workers mean the “ability to care for patients is dangerously tenuous” across the state.
“Let’s help them do their jobs by doing what we can to slow the spread of this virus,” the Deephaven Democrat said. “We really have no choice — we must act now.”
Public health experts in Minnesota and beyond are worried that travel and gatherings over Thanksgiving will fuel the spread even further. Legislators participating in the pledge said the goal is for more people to sign on via social media using the hashtag #TakeThePledgeMN, reinforcing the need to follow social distancing guidelines.
“We’re hoping that just like high school, a little bit of peer pressure will work,” said Rep. Erin Koegel, DFL-Spring Lake Park.
All year, the two parties sparred publicly over the pandemic response. Many Republicans have been critical of Gov. Tim Walz’s actions, including the statewide mask mandate and restrictions on public and private gatherings.
In early November, Senate Republicans gathered for a postelection dinner that has since been tied to a COVID-19 outbreak in the caucus. The caucus leader said he did not regret hosting the party. Lawmakers, staff and guests reportedly mingled without masks as they ate and drank at the indoor event.
Republicans participating in the pledge said while legitimate debates over the use of executive power should continue, it’s time to set politics aside and do the right thing as individuals.
Rep. Nolan West, R-Blaine, emphasized the urgency of the situation, noting that many hospitals across the state are already “living in some sort of dystopia movie.” In addition to following social distancing recommendations, he urged Minnesotans to stay physically fit to boost their physical and mental health until a vaccine is widely distributed.
“You don’t slow down in the homestretch,” West said. “You go all out to the finish line.”
Not all Republicans share West’s outlook. On Sunday, GOP Rep.-elect Erik Mortensen, who will represent the Shakopee area, posted a letter online inviting the DFL governor to a Thanksgiving gathering at his home.
The party, set to include darts, a bonfire and “a handful of constituents that live outside my personal residence,” would violate Walz’s latest executive order limiting private social events.