Minnesota governor charts path to reopening as political pressure intensifies

Walz, a Democrat, has taken these steps even as Covid-19 cases, hospital admissions and deaths continue to increase in his state.

A former high school teacher and football coach who grew up in rural Nebraska and spent more than two decades in the Army National Guard, Walz earned a reputation as a pragmatic moderate, partially during his years representing Minnesota's first congressional district.


Kathryn Pearson, associate professor of political science at the University of Minnesota, noted that Walz has not been as critical of President Donald Trump as other governors, and that he faces a difficult balance overseeing a state where one party has control of every chamber in legislative assembly.

"Originally, the Republican-controlled Senate and Republicans were quite supportive of the governor," Pearson said. "But as time goes on, there has been a lot of pressure from Republican legislative leaders to reopen." This includes a GOP threat to block the state's bond bill – which provides funding for projects across the state and requires a two-thirds majority for passage – unless Walz terminates his emergency authority.

Minnesota is just one of many examples of states where governors and mayors are struggling to find the right balance between security and economic revival as Trump tries to get away from the pandemic before issues arise. During a proclamation in memory of National Nurses Day on Wednesday, Claimed Trump The virus "is going to disappear."
Nevertheless, cases continue to increase in Midwestern states such as Minnesota and Nebraska, as well as rural areas in the South – often linked to outbreaks in meat, poultry and pork processing plants. Trump, who has insisted that these factories be reopened, referred to the so-called hot spots like fires and fires Wednesday.

"I call them 'embers' if they're small – or if there's a fire or a hotspot, we can knock them out," he said. "But we can't have our entire country out. We can't do it …. The country won't take it. I won't endure it. It's not sustainable."


Strong economic reality

In a state Hillary Clinton won by just 1.6% in 2016, Walz feels the same bind. Minnesota is currently falling in the middle of the package in the collection of coronavirus cases among the 50 states, but the most important risk factors for coronavirus are all at the height.
During the week of April 18 Walz took a more aggressive opening position by announcing he would allow golf courses, bait shops, outdoor shooting ranges and marina services to reopen with proper social distance.

He recently signed an executive order providing a framework for doctors, dentists and veterinarians to resume elective surgery by next week. In a statement, he said he implemented the change because Minnesota has made "significant progress in building critical resources to combat Covid-19," including procuring personal protective equipment, ventilators and increasing the hospital's wave capacity.


"We are proud that this advancement allows our medical professionals to safely resume certain procedures to keep Minnesota healthy and improve the quality of life," Walz said.

But there is no doubt that the state is facing increased financial pressure as tax revenues have plummeted. Earlier this year, before the pandemic took hold, state authorities estimated they would have a $ 1.5 billion surplus. It has now come into being an estimated deficit of $ 2.4 billion.

In response to the new budget outlook Tuesday, Walz said the forecast "confirms what we suspected: Covid-19 will hurt Minnesota's economy."

"This will mean shared sacrifice among all of us," he said. "Hard decisions will be made."

The strong economic reality is already forcing hard choices. In late April, a group of small business owners known as the "Free Minnesota Small Business Coalition" challenged Walz's executive orders in a lawsuit, arguing the closure rules have favored larger businesses.

In the lawsuit, which represents a dance studio, a yoga company and several boxing clubs, prosecutors argue that Walz & # 39; s closure order of March 25 "shuts down no businesses, but no other businesses that pose no major public health risk."


"The government has failed to adequately explain its rationale for public health that separates the businesses that are allowed to continue, and the businesses – like the prosecutors – that have been closed down," they argued.


The lawsuit notes that Target stores sales were up in the first quarter of 2020 because they were allowed to continue operating, but "other smaller stores selling the same products or services are closed under the order.

"The inequality is obvious; large companies are preferred over small businesses," the lawsuit argues. "There is no evidence to reflect that large companies can behave in a more socially responsible way in the current health crisis than small businesses."

Republican lawmakers have also kept a steady pressure on Walz to reopen by highlighting the pain felt by small business owners. Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, a Republican, has repeatedly argued that Minnesota can prevent the spread of Covid-19, while Minnesota again confidently opens.

When Walz extended his home order in late April, Gazelka released a video message that some Minnesota businesses are closing for good

"We need to figure out how we can also flatten that curve for businesses that are going out of business," Gazelka said in its April 30 video release.

"We have to," he said of the reopening. "If we're not willing to do that, more businesses will die and that spike will be more harmful than anything we've encountered so far."

Risk of meat processing plants

The state is still struggling with increasing cases while trying to increase its test capacity for coronavirus. As of Thursday afternoon, the state had only conducted about 97,421 tests with 9,365 positive cases, according to data from the Minnesota Department of Health.

Although Walz has touted a collaboration between Mayo Clinic and the University of Minnesota to increase testing capacity, Minnesota's daily record of completed tests is ebbing and flowing, sometimes fall short of the 5000 tests a day the goal that Walz set as key metric to allow reopening.

The University of Washington Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation has also updated the model for Minnesota with the expectation that the cases will now peak during the week of May 14. With 2,962 cases and 342 deaths, Hennepin County, which includes Minneapolis, has the most cases in the state. About 80% of coronavirus deaths have been in long-term care or assisted living.

One of the biggest dangers for Minnesota, along with many other Midwestern states, is the difficulty in controlling outbreaks in meat processing plants.

In late April, Trump signed an executive order which allows Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to invoke the Defense Production Act to force meat and poultry plants to stay in operation to ensure food supply continuity.
But as more and more plant workers are sickened by Covid-19, it has been difficult to keep the industry operates at full capacity.

JBS USA's pork factory in Worthington, Minnesota, reopened Thursday in limited capacity after closing for two weeks. JBS officials said in a statement that the facility voluntarily closed April 20 "in an effort to combat the social spread of coronavirus in Nobles County," which has the second highest number of cases in all counties in the state.

The Minnesota Department of Health estimates that at least 490 of the plant's 2,000 workers tested positive for Covid-19. The plant handles about 4% of the country's pork production.

In a statement, JBS USA said the facility will reopen with reduced staff and expects operations "to normalize over time as absenteeism falls in response to preventative measures in place at the facility" and as "team members remove all necessary quarantine- protocols. "

During a recent appearance on CNN's "Inside Politics," Minnesota Agriculture Commissioner Thom Petersen argued that the state has been "aggressive" in asking landlords to create greater social distancing and to put safety measures as temperature controls for each worker when they enter the plant.

Petersen said the state has also offered testing at the facilities to "do everything we can to either keep those driving in Minnesota" or get closed facilities "back and go as soon as possible."

Petersen said: "It is in our best interests that these facilities run, but they must provide safety for the workers.

CNN's Dianne Gallagher and Pamela Kirkland contributed to this report.

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