Gov. Tim Walz used a seasonal analogy Sunday night to explain the challenge facing the state and its residents from COVID-19 — one Minnesotans are well familiar with.
The best way to get through a hard winter is to prepare, Walz said in his second state of the state speech since being elected, this one given not from the Minnesota House Chambers but from his residence, where he has been in quarantine for two weeks.
“Right at the time Minnesotans are usually putting away their shovels and snowblowers, opening up their windows, and emerging from their homes, we’re 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 like a winter we’ve never seen before.”
So preparations will be more intense as well, he said, and will include increasing hospital capacity and testing for the coronavirus, as well as adding ventilators and intensive care unit beds to treat those who get COVID-19.
“And just as we wouldn’t send a loved one out into the cold without the protection they need, we are doing our best to find more personal protective equipment for the selfless doctors, nurses, first responders, and so many others on the frontlines against COVID-19,” he said. “But Minnesotans won’t just prepare for COVID-19, we will lead the fight.”
Walz began his 12-minute speech by setting a dire scene for a state that has changed dramatically and unpredictably in less than a month.
“Many of you are out of work,” he said. “Businesses large and small are shuttered across the state. The companionship we normally lean on to get through difficult times — a hug from a grandparent, a cup of coffee with a friend, or just laughing with a co-worker — are now out of reach. Vacant streets. Deserted classrooms. Empty pews. Chairs stacked on restaurant tables. Graduations, weddings, and funerals postponed.”
Walz also noted the disconnect between the types of things many in the state do routinely to help out in a winter storm, from shoveling neighbor’s sidewalks to pushing a stranger’s car out of the snow, they can’t do now, restricted as they are by the overriding order to stay home and to stay away from people.
And while the Mayo Clinic is building testing capacity and treatments, 3M is speeding manufacturing of needed masks, Medtronic is sharing designs for ventilators, hospitals and health care workers are working overtime in dangerous conditions, most Minnesotans are asked to do less than they normally do.
Yet staying home, he said, “is our only vaccine.”
“And you — staying home — are doing some of the most critical work of all,” he said of those following his stay-at-home order. “I know it doesn’t feel that way for many of you. Minnesotans are hardworking people who step in to help. In many storms, that means plowing out your neighborhood, filling sandbags, or trudging through the snow to check on your loved ones.
“Now that means staying home. What you are doing isn’t paralysis — it’s action.”
Walz also had special words for students and their parents who are worried about their finances and trying to keep their kids’ education on track. “This is hard for everyone,” he said. “Take a deep breath. Be kind to yourself. We are all doing the best we can — and that’s all we can do.”
The address was more fireside chat than typical state of the state speech. Walz didn’t speak of legislative requests or issues he wanted addressed. He also made no news about the response to the crisis, such as an extension of existing closure orders or emergency requests of lawmakers. Instead, he attempted both to warn the state of troubles ahead and pat it on the back — virtually, of course — to reassure its citizens.
And rather than recognize Minnesotans strategically seated in the House gallery — a staple of such speeches in normal times — Walz singled out people by reference. A Pee Wee Hockey team that gathered supplies for a hockey mom who is also a nurse; the state trooper who gave his own N-95 masks to a doctor after stopping her for speeding; the grandkids of a Veteran’s Home resident who made chalk art on the sidewalk to cheer him and buck up the staff; the downtown Minneapolis residents who go on their balconies each day at 7 p.m. to applaud for health care workers.
“While we might be separated physically, we stand united. From Rondo to the Range, from North Minneapolis to North Mankato, we are One Minnesota,” Walz said “And a new day will come. The sun will shine. The trees will bud. The birds will sing.
“Spring will arrive. And when it does, we will dig out Minnesota. We will do whatever it takes to support Minnesotans and businesses to get back on their feet,” he said. “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. We will recognize all that educators and child care providers do for our students, our communities and our economy.”
The unusual format for the speech Sunday led Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka to take a different tack for his response, a tradition of sorts that rarely sees legislative leaders veer far from partisan talking points. The Nisswa-area Republican gave his response before the speech via a Facebook video.
Whatever plans Walz outlined, “we’ll try our best to rally around it,” Gazelka said. “I am walking hand-in-hand, arm-in-arm with the governor, with the House, with the Senate. We want the governor to be successful. We want the president to be successful. It doesn’t matter whether you’re Republicans or Democrats, they have to succeed.”
House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt echoed Gazelka’s promise to work with Walz in responding to the crisis. “I think the governor really is trying to inspire Minnesotans and let them know that we will get through this,” said Daudt, a Republican from Crown. “I would agree with him that we want to present a united front. Republicans join Democrats in wanting to defeat COVID-19 but also make sure Minnesotans are back to normal as quickly as possible while still remaining safe. I think the governor took the right tone.”
Walz did retain one tradition of these annual addresses. Even though the state and nation are going through a historical trial, Walz refrained from saying that the condition of the state of Minnesota wasn’t positive.
“The State of our State is strong,” he said. “The State of our State is resilient. The State of our State is united. And our hearts are filled with gratitude for each and every Minnesotan and the role they play in the fight against COVID-19.”