It was a sunny spring Sunday in St. Paul, but Gov. Tim Walz warned Minnesotans to prepare for a “long, cold winter.”
During his annual State of the State address Sunday evening, Walz warned that darker days lie ahead as Minnesotans brave the COVID-19 virus that’s reached across the world and currently has North America in its grip.
But, befitting the football coach he once was, Walz took the opportunity to deliver an inspirational speech about the indomitability of the state’s citizens and his belief that the crisis will leave Minnesotans a more united and grateful citizenry.
While his 2019 State of the State address was delivered in the House Chamber before a joint session of the Legislature, Sunday night’s speech was a solo affair, presented via video from an armchair in the governor’s residence in St. Paul. Walz has been self-quarantined there since March 23 — the originally scheduled date of his address — when a member of his security detail was diagnosed with COVID-19.
Comparisons to braving a difficult winter were woven throughout the 12-minute speech.
“We are bracing for a storm of epic proportions,” Walz said. “We are used to long winters in Minnesota. We are resilient people with a deep reserve of courage, optimism and grit. But this will be a winter like we’ve never seen before.
“We are going to do everything in our power to save lives. And as hard as we work, we are not going to save everyone.”
Walz said that the state is preparing for the pandemic’s increasing effects by building hospital capacity, increasing the number of ventilators and intensive care beds, boosting testing for better tracking of the virus, and finding more personal protective equipment for health care professionals.
He cited the efforts of Rochester’s Mayo Clinic in developing treatments, Maplewood-based 3M in producing protective masks, and Medtronic in sharing design specifications for ventilators so other companies may also manufacture them.
“And you, staying home, are doing some of the most critical work of all,” he added. “What you are doing isn’t paralysis, it’s action. Staying home reduces face-to-face contact and, thus, the threat of virus transmission by up to 80%.
“Staying home is the only vaccine we have right now. You are slowing the spread of this disease. You are protecting your neighbors. You are giving hospitals time to prepare to care for the many who will fall ill. You are making a difference. You are saving lives.”
The speech eschewed the policy proposals and legislative recommendations typical of a State of the State address in favor of touting the care and generosity of particular Minnesotans in dealing with the COVID-19 crisis.
Walz spoke of a state trooper who gave a visiting doctor his supply of protective masks instead of a speeding ticket, of Minneapolis health care workers at the end of their shift being serenaded with support by neighbors beating pots and pans on the balconies of nearby high rises.
In offering a vision of Minnesota after the crisis is over, Walz spoke of a renewed appreciation for not only health care workers, but teachers and child care providers.
“We will grieve all that was taken from us,” he said. “But we will also celebrate all that was given to us: unity, humanity and gratitude. We will be more united as a state, we will cherish each other’s humanity, and we will have endless gratitude for the lives we lead.
“These trying times have led us back to each other. We will value those we overlooked before. When times got tough, who did we lean on? It was the nurse, the grocer, the truck driver, the farmer, the janitor.”
While the House Minority Leader, Rep. Kurt Daudt (R-Crown), praised the tone of the governor’s speech, he expressed concerns about the pandemic’s effect on the state budget.
“Certainly we should assume that because of COVID-19, that we likely will not only not have a budget surplus, but we will very likely have a pretty significant deficit,” Daudt said. “Unlike Washington, D.C., we must balance our budget. And every dollar we spend now on COVID-19 response is a dollar we need to cut if we have a budget deficit next year. Tax increases will only slow the recovery once the pandemic has passed. So we strongly urge democrats not to promote tax increases.”
But House Speaker Melissa Hortman (DFL-Brooklyn Park) cautioned that economies that “went the austerity route” after the 2008 recession did worse.
“Right now, the enemy is firing at us,” she said. “This virus is out there and it is hurting people, and we have to start firing back. We can debate how we’re going to pay for the bullets, but we have to be focused on firing back at the enemy right now, which is the virus and economic devastation. That means getting housing assistance out to folks, making sure tenants don’t fall so far behind they can’t catch up if they’ve lost their jobs. That means landlords not having unpaid bills that they can never collect and property taxes that they can never pay.”
Session Daily writers Deena Winter and Rachel Kats contributed to this story.