Governor Tim Walz delivered a live address announcing the next phase of the COVID-19 response in Minnesota. Below are his remarks as prepared.
This week, Minnesota celebrated 162 years of statehood.
From the Indigenous people who have called this land home from time immemorial to newcomers seeking opportunity, the people of Minnesota have faced great challenges over the years.
Soldiers not coming home from war. Breadlines stretching around street corners during the Great Depression. Fierce floods wreaking havoc on communities. A bridge collapsing in the middle of Minneapolis.
And as our state starts our 163rd year, we face a challenge we’ve never seen before: COVID-19.
A global pandemic.
COVID-19 has upended life as we know it. The virus has claimed the lives of more than 600 Minnesotans.
Grandparents. Parents. Daughters. Sons.
Friends. Neighbors. Coworkers.
We honor their memories. We will never forget them.
We will also never forget the countless heroes who have answered the call during this crisis.
On behalf of all Minnesotans, thank you to the health care workers and first responders who continue to put their lives on the line every day to protect us. From hospitals to care facilities, these Minnesotans are putting themselves in harms way to keep us safe. We must do everything we can to support and protect them.
Thank you to all the other workers: the grocer. The farmer. The meat processor. The teacher. The child care provider. The sanitation worker. And so many more who may have been overlooked before and now we find ourselves leaning on when times are tough.
And times are tough, Minnesota. Many of you are out of work. Businesses are shuttered. Families are struggling to pay rent. People are worried about making ends meet.
The companionship we normally lean on to get through difficult times—a hug from a grandparent, coffee with a friend, or a laugh with a co-worker—are forced out of reach.
As I said during my State of the State address last month, COVID-19 exceeds the reality of Minnesota’s harshest winters.
Seeing what was coming, we told you we weren’t ready. We asked you to slow the spread of the virus by staying home. We told you we needed time to prepare for this fight.
We have used that time wisely.
We have built out hospital capacity so that we can ensure as many Minnesotans as possible receive the care they need when they need it.
We have increased the number of ventilators and ICU beds for when people fall really ill.
We have sourced critical care and personal protective equipment for the selfless doctors, nurses, first responders, and so many others on the frontlines.
And we launched an aggressive testing strategy with Mayo Clinic, the University of Minnesota, and our hospitals to test every symptomatic Minnesotan. Today we hit an all-time record with over 6,700 Minnesotans tested.
All of this work was done in partnership with our cutting-edge health sector, innovative business community, world-class universities, and everyday Minnesotans like you from across the state.
We know there’s no stopping the storm of COVID-19 from hitting Minnesota, but we have prepared for it.
We’ve successfully pushed out and reduced the peak of this virus, and we’ve made great progress to ensure we can treat Minnesotans who fall ill.
Thank you for your sacrifices. You have saved the lives of thousands of Minnesotans.
At this point in time, Minnesota is staying steady in hospitalizations.
With the capacity that we built while you stayed home, we can chart a new way forward.
We believe that we should be able to handle an increase in cases as more people move out and about.
We can use what we have learned about the virus and how it spreads to inform our next steps.
We can take a measured, Minnesota approach that protects public health and improves economic stability.
This means cautious, strategic steps forward.
And it means clear measures for determining if and when we need to pull back.
We are not flipping a switch and all going back to normal at once. We are slowly moving a dial and introducing more interaction between people over time.
As we consider what can safely resume or reopen, we must take into account three critical factors.
First, how close you are to another person in a given setting or activity.
Second, how long you are in close proximity to another person.
Third, how predictable the setting is.
For example, walking past people in a hardware store wearing a mask is less risky and more predictable than sitting for a meal in a crowded restaurant.
This is the lens we are using when considering how we can safely turn the dial.
And starting May 18, we are turning the workplace dial. Non-critical businesses, like retail stores and main street businesses, can reopen if they have a safety plan and operate at no more than 50 percent occupancy.
Small businesses are critical to the social and economic fabric of communities across Minnesota. I recognize how hard the pandemic has been on them, and I hope this action charts a safe, prosperous path forward.
We can make this turn of the dial and keep people safe, if we can trust each other to continue to be cautious. We need business owners to follow the new guidance to protect workers and customers. And we encourage customers to wear masks, socially distance, and not congregate in stores.
As we look forward, I have directed my cabinet to continue the extensive discussions they are already having with health experts and thousands of businesses on future openings.
I’m directing them to assemble similar guidance on how to safely re-open bars, restaurants, barbershops, and salons beginning June 1. This will coincide with a significant increase in testing, tracing, and isolating the virus in the state.
We are also turning the social dial. We know this has been hard. Weddings, funerals, graduations postponed. The letters I’ve received from young children offering to cancel their birthday parties break my heart. Our social and mental well-being is an important factor as we chart our path forward.
When the Stay Home order ends on May 18, we are replacing it with a new order that brings back more of the social interactions that are so important in life but that still asks Minnesotans to Stay Safe.
Stay Safe MN will still ask people to stay close to home and limit travel to what’s essential. But we can now gather with friends and family in groups of 10 or less.
In all cases, we are asking Minnesotans not to gather in large groups. All gatherings—whether a backyard barbecue or a religious meeting at a church, synagogue, or mosque—are limited to 10 and require social distancing.
Don’t get me wrong. We believe that the safest place you can be is at home, but we know we cannot continue like this forever. So we are gradually making turns on both the business and social dials in order to slowly and safely reopen society.
This situation is fluid. There’s much we still don’t know about this virus, and as I said previously, we must be prepared to dial back if needed. We will continue to follow the guidance of public health experts and make data-driven decisions.
We will monitor the rate of new cases, hospitalizations, and deaths. If there are sudden rate increases or a potential spike, we will move the dial back quickly and strategically.
Whenever we make any movement to ease restrictions, we must protect the safety of those returning to work.
Our state’s health care workers, emergency responders, and other professionals are doing their jobs under demanding and stressful conditions to provide services to Minnesotans.
These front-line workers – and their patients, coworkers, and family members – are at heightened risk.
As even more Minnesotans head back to work in these settings, we must protect their safety and dignity.
That is why I signed an Executive Order today to ensure workers can raise concerns regarding the safety of their work environments without fear of discrimination or retaliation.
As there is more interaction between people, we must protect those in our communities that are most vulnerable to the virus. That is why I also signed an Executive Order today to strongly encourage Minnesotans at greatest risk of serious illness to continue staying home.
We know the virus rides hardest on people who already have health challenges. People who have lung and heart disease, asthma, diabetes, or weakened immune systems are more likely to end up in the hospital if they get COVID-19.
We know this virus is especially lethal for our elderly. It has already stolen the lives of so many of our Greatest Generation.
We must do everything in our power to protect our older Minnesotans. Last week, we announced a Five Point Battle Plan to protect our senior Minnesotans and keep this virus at bay in thousands of our long-term care facilities.
And now we are asking people who have underlying conditions and who are over 65 years old to take extra precautions. We are not requiring it, but it is strongly encouraged that if you are able to stay home – continue to stay home.
For those of you who we are asking to continue to self-isolate, we are committing to keep you connected to the services, food support and companionship that you will need to stay well.
We all have seniors or friends with health challenges in our lives. Take the time to reach out to them. A phone call, a card in the mail, or a quick text can make all the difference.
We also know the virus feeds on existing inequalities. This public health crisis is exacerbating the racial, economic, and geographic inequities that have been here all along.
According to the data, disproportionate number of African Americans are testing positive for COVID-19. Since the pandemic struck a third of the Native American work force is newly unemployed.
We must not look away from this reality, and we must plan for and lift up every Minnesotan in our response to COVID-19. We leave no one behind.
Whether our workers, our elderly, our medically vulnerable, or our communities of color and indigenous communities, we will look out for you. Let me be clear: no life is disposable.
Minnesotans, I’ve told you what we are doing on our part. Now we need you to do yours.
It has never been more important for you to look out for your neighbor.
We are still in the heart of this pandemic, and this can go in a bad direction very quickly.
We must keep this virus at a “simmer,” and not a “boil.”
As a former teacher, I care a lot about report cards. A little more than a month ago our state received an “A” grade in social distancing. Last week, the state was given a “D”. This is unacceptable.
Minnesotans, we pride ourselves for exceptionalism. We love to be the best at things. And one of those things we are best at is looking out for our neighbors.
We can, must, and will do better.
I asked you to Stay Home. You did and in doing so, you saved lives. Now I am asking you to Stay Safe.
We are counting on Minnesotans to take personal responsibility for their own health and the health of their community.
Stay Safe means work from home if you can. Wear masks when you go out to shop. Stay close to home if you have to travel. Gather only in groups of 10 or less. Keep at least 6 feet apart from each other. Get tested if you have symptoms – and Stay Home if you are sick.
I am asking you to continue to take these precautions to protect your own health and the health of the people around you. It’s never been more clear how connected we are and how our individual decisions impact the lives of others.
We’ve turned the dial on businesses. We’ve turned the dial on social life. We are doing that because we are trusting people to Stay Safe by making smart choices.
However, we know that this will mean more people will get sick and some will end up in the hospital. We have prepared for that inevitability.
We have increased ICU beds and ventilators for those who get really sick. We have masks, gowns and gloves for the health care workers who will have to take care of them.
We have strategies for protecting those most vulnerable to COVID – those in nursing homes and those experiencing homelessness.
We have plans for eliminating hot spots when the virus impacts workers in place like food processing plants.
But we have work to do. Work that we all must do. We must continue to slow the spread of the virus.
We will test people and find out where the virus is spreading. When people learn they have the virus they have to stay home so they do not spread it.
We have to ease back into doing business – but not the way we used to. Employers have to implement new protections for employees and customers.
We all have to remain cautious for our own health and the health of our neighbors.
So yes, the Stay at Home order is expiring and the dials are turning. But that does not mean we are care free or can return to the way things were.
It means we have to Stay Safe and take care – care of our own health and care for our community.
Many of you have selflessly chosen to stay home and forgo celebrating important milestones or taking long planned trips in order to slow the spread of the virus.
Others have changed how you worship, work, study, exercise, and connect with friends and family.
And many more of you have lost jobs, closed doors on businesses and experienced real financial hardship as the virus has limited where we can gather and how we can do business.
I am grateful for all of those sacrifices and I am sorry for all the disruption and hardship the response to the pandemic has required.
At each turn we’ve tried to ease the economic impact of the virus with unemployment payments, business loans, and income and food supports.
We know that in many cases it isn’t enough. We are grateful to the generosity of foundations and individuals who are helping families fill in the gaps of rent, food, and child care costs.
I am proud of how Minnesotans have stepped up for each other, both by staying home and reaching out to those in need. Whether it is by sewing and donating face masks, contributing to food shelves, or practicing social distancing, we need all of you to continue to put the care and safety of others at the front of your mind.
Do not charge forward as everything is normal.
Unfortunately, we aren’t through winter yet.
These last several weeks have been difficult, and it will only get harder.
But we will get through. We are resilient people with a deep reserve of courage, optimism, and grit.
I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again. No matter how daunting the challenge; no matter how dark the times; Minnesota has always risen up—by coming together.
Our blood saved the Union at Gettysburg.
Our iron forged the tanks that liberated Europe.
Our farmers sparked a green revolution that fed the world.
Our imagination transformed medicine—and continues to do so today.
Minnesotans, we will get through this—just as we have every other challenge—together.
Good evening. Stay safe, Minnesota.