ST. PAUL — With Minnesota's coronavirus case numbers surging to unprecedented heights, Democratic Gov. Tim Walz is pleading with leaders in the neighboring Dakotas to impose more serious restrictions to tamp down the virus' spread across state lines.
During a series of news conferences on Tuesday, Nov. 10, announcing Minnesota's own newly increased coronavirus restrictions, Walz said he does not "blame" neighboring states for Minnesota's recent spike, but criticized the hands-off approach taken by North Dakota and South Dakota to battling the pandemic.
Asked by reporters if he "implores" Republican Govs. Kristi Noem of South Dakota and Doug Burgum of North Dakota to put in place more COVID-19 restrictions like limiting gatherings and a mask mandate, Walz answered yes.
"I want to be clear: I’m not blaming other governors or blaming others states," Walz said. "I am saying, they have made choices that have increased spread to a certain degree. When people go over there, they are going to get infected and bring it back home."
Walz took particular aim at Noem, whose approach to governing in the pandemic has foiled his from the start. She has made a national name of herself in cable news appearances and campaign visits across the country touting personal liberty and responsibility over government mandates, never ordering South Dakotans to shelter in place or wear face masks.
"This one’s a little bit personal because the governor of South Dakota has taken to travelling to other states and criticizing others now at a time when that state’s hospital capacity is overwhelmed," Walz said Tuesday. "But I’m not blaming them. We’ve made our own choices."
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Ian Fury, a spokesperson for Noem, responded in a written statement that Walz "is mistaken on South Dakota’s hospital situation," and that 36% of South Dakota hospital beds are currently open. He added that Noem will be "continuing (her) approach" to handling COVID-19.
"Governor Noem has provided her people with all of the science, facts, and data, and then trusted them to make the best decisions for themselves and their loved-ones," Fury said.
Meanwhile, Noem has taken shots at Minnesota, spearheading an ad campaign to lure Minnesota business owners to move across the border where "you won't find the restrictions that hold companies back in other places." In campaign appearances for President Donald Trump around the country — including in Minnesota — an often-maskless Noem has criticized Democratic governors' restrictions while South Dakota's coronavirus test positivity rate remains among the highest in the nation.
While Noem has been lauded by some conservatives for her approach, she has drawn ire from others for permitting large, in-person events such as the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in August and repeatedly being photographed in public forgoing a face mask.
“I don’t want to make it blaming, but do I think South Dakota should have done a mask mandate and not had the Sturgis rally? Absolutely. And I believe the data supports me," Walz said Tuesday. "Is that what caused Minnesota’s problem in itself? Absolutely not.”
Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan told reporters Tuesday that they have no plans at this point to restrict travel between Minnesota and neighboring states, but Flanagan asked Dakotans that "we just need to be good neighbors."
"I think our expectation would be that North Dakota and South Dakota would be good neighbors, as well, following those same kinds of guidelines: masking, washing hands," Flanagan said. "We are all very closely together in this. (...) (W)e just are looking for a stronger partnership, making sure all the folks in the states that we’re responsible for are taking this seriously and are doing what they need to do to stop the spread."
Ultimately, Walz pointed to the Trump administration, saying a lack of national pandemic strategy is what led to the virus's massive spread. As of Tuesday, COVID-19 has claimed the lives of 2,698 Minnesotans, 540 South Dakotans and 644 North Dakotans.
"Conscious choices were made and they had an impact," Walz said. "This nation, no matter how you parse this, had a very disconcerted and very disoriented national strategy — if you could even call it that — and it has led to more deaths than were necessary, more infections than were necessary, and a hodgepodge of state programs. (...) That didn’t need to be that way."
Contact Forum News Service reporter Sarah Mearhoff at email@example.com or 610-790-4992.