Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz and six other governors across the Midwest announced Thursday that they will coordinate their work to reopen the states’ economies amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We recognize that our economies are all reliant on each other, and we must work together to safely reopen them so hardworking people can get back to work and businesses can get back on their feet,” the governors said in a joint statement.
Minnesota will be working with Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana and Kentucky. Each of those states has stay-at-home orders in place. Governors in other Midwest states surrounding Minnesota — the Dakotas and Iowa — have not issued such orders and were not part of Thursday’s agreement.
The governors said the compact does not mean their economies will all reopen at the same time, or that they will take steps in tandem to get businesses operating again.
But they said it would be more effective to work together to phase in different economic sectors. The governors said they anticipate working with experts to take a data-driven approach to reopening the economy while protecting people from the spread of the virus. There was no timeline of when businesses could potentially resume operations, and on Thursday Wisconsin extended its stay-at-home order until May 26.
“We will make decisions based on facts, science, and recommendations from experts in health care, business, labor, and education,” their announcement said.
They listed four key factors in their decisionmaking:
• The states need sustained control of infection and hospitalization rates.
• They must have enhanced testing and tracing.
• Health care systems need to be able to handle a resurgence of the virus.
• Workplaces must have best practices for social distancing.
The compact came the same day that President Donald Trump held a call with governors across the country and rolled out a set of “Opening up America Again” guidelines for states to use. Some of the guidelines align with the factors the governors listed.
The Midwest is not the only region where governors have formed a plan to work together on reopening businesses. Seven states in the Northeast announced a similar plan Monday, as did governors of states along the West Coast.
In a call with reporters this week, Walz said he had talked with other governors about “regionally, how do we restart our economies together. But the only way that this can happen is that we have widespread testing.”
Walz also hinted that he wants to work with other states not only on the economic response to the pandemic but also on testing. He said he wished the country were churning out masks and that test kits were widely available.
“What we’re going to find out is what we can do for Minnesota and the surrounding states together,” Walz said. “Can we use the capacity that’s in Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, North Dakota, Minnesota, to build a block of things necessary to do it?”
Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said Thursday that the compact between the states underscores that a virus doesn’t respect geographic boundaries.
“It is challenging to try to mount a state strategy without kind of taking into account the interrelationship of our economies and the freedom of our society, which is so important. So I think the more we can have cohesive action, the better,” she said.
However, House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said while it’s important for states to plan together, Minnesotans also need a voice in the process. He said in a statement following Walz’s announcement that he wants to form a task force of legislators, business owners, hospitality industry members, health care experts and the public.
“We need to include Minnesotans in these decisions, not just a few commissioners or a multistate task force,” Daudt said.
Staff writers Jeremy Olson and Briana Bierschbach contributed to this report.