When he announced his declaration of a peacetime state of emergency on March 13, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz noted that a familiar face was missing.
Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan has been at Walz’s side both literally and figuratively since she was first announced as his running mate in October of 2017. Most public appearances and press conferences since then have featured the pair of them, and Walz speaks frequently of co-governing with Flanagan.
“The lieutenant governor is not here for a reason,” Walz said.
That reason? Part of the state’s continuity of operations plan calls for the governor and lieutenant governor to stay away from one another as a means of preventing both from becoming sick with COVID-19 at the same time.
Since then — at least before Walz’s self-quarantine for being exposed to the virus by someone in his security detail — Walz has appeared with commissioners from the Department of Health, Department of Education, Management and Budget as well as his emergency management director.
But not Flanagan, since if Walz should get sick and not be able to function as governor, she needs to be available to fill in.
“We have a responsibility to Minnesotans to make sure we’re doing that,” Flanagan said of the gubernatorial distancing. “We needed to no longer appear in public or at the same public events.”
That’s a big change for the two, said Flanagan. “We do a lot of things together,” she said. “It’s been a change — but it’s also same-as-it-ever was. We continue to function as a team. We’re on countless conference calls and virtual meetings and are in contact throughout the day.”
This week, as with many workplaces in Minnesota, the Walz administration established additional precautions: all events and travel were canceled and all staff are working from home.
“We’re all meeting virtually and electronically,” Flanagan said. “The governor’s office is still functioning. We’re all just working from home.”
Walz was asked Wednesday about his health after putting himself into quarantine. He said he has shown no symptoms, but added that he is in the midst of the protocols under the state’s continuity of government plan. “We have a very clear order in place,” he said. “We executed it last summer when I went in for elective surgery on my knee.”
His doctor and two others would determine if he is incapacitated and, if so, trigger a handover of authority to Flanagan, who he noted, “is at every single meeting, at every single table and is up to speed on this. There is a clear and orderly transition, should that be needed, knock on wood.”
Flanagan announced Monday that her brother Ron had died in Tennessee of complications from COVID-19. She said then that it emphasized the need for people to stay home and practice the hand-washing and other advice from public health officials.
Flanagan has been at home with her daughter, a first-grader, supervising schoolwork and other activities while taking frequent work calls. One change she’s made, she said, is to try to shield her daughter from hearing some of the details about COVID-19, “so she can focus on being a kid in challenging times right now.”
One of their outings was to her daughter’s school in St. Louis Park, to thank the teachers and staff — at a distance — who have been working to set up e-learning and to continue meal service for students who need them.
“That’s been a good break in the day and an opportunity for us to just thank her educators and administrators for the incredible job they’re doing,” Flanagan said.