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Walz, citing political fallout for health commissioner, will not declare COVID state of emergency

By: - November 17, 2021 1:02 pm

Gov. Tim Walz speaks at North Memorial Hospital in Robbinsdale on Oct. 15, 2021. Photo by Ricardo Lopez/Minnesota Reformer

Gov. Tim Walz on Wednesday said he would not call a state of emergency in response to  the COVID-19 surge in Minnesota, arguing it would be ineffective and would cause political fallout that would hobble his administration’s pandemic response. 

Walz, who is in Finland on a trade mission, said a peacetime emergency declaration would be less effective now to manage the resurgence of COVID-19. 

“I would declare that in a minute. If I believed I could declare a peacetime emergency and save a life by doing it. I would certainly do that. ” he said during a telephone news conference with reporters. “The tools that are at my disposal are different now.”

Looming over Walz is the threat that Senate Republicans would vote to remove Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm, who has not yet been confirmed, despite being appointed in January 2018. He is casting blame on Senate Republicans for inaction on measures he says would help address the COVID-19 surge.

A number of Senate GOP lawmakers have indicated they want to vote to remove Malcolm, who has guided the state’s vaccination rollout and broader pandemic response. 

Minnesota is leading the country in the rate of new COVID-19 infections, despite the widespread availability of vaccines and a fully vaccinated rate that is above the national average. Hospital critical-care beds are full, and health officials are sounding the alarm. 

Walz has been in a standoff with Senate Republicans over negotiations for a special session. Lawmakers had intended to return to St. Paul in September to approve pandemic bonus pay for front-line workers, but partisan differences have prevented an agreement. 

For more than a year, Walz used emergency powers to unilaterally lead the state’s pandemic response until the Legislature voted to end the state of emergency in late June.  

With COVID-19 cases beginning to rise due to the more infectious Delta variant, Walz asked lawmakers in September to approve regulatory changes intended to help hospitals deal with the latest turn of the pandemic.

Despite the sharp uptick in hospitalizations, Senate Majority Leader Jeremy Miller, R-Winona, has not agreed to Walz’s condition that Malcolm be retained. 

“We are in a crisis situation in Minnesota and I need to be able to handle all these things, hundreds of decisions every day,” Walz said. “We have done more in the last 24 hours than the Republican Legislature has done in all 20 months of this, so that is where we’re at. It’s not really negotiation: It’s a threat that hangs over me that would cripple our response to Covid and I’m not going to let it happen.”

Senate Republicans have in recent weeks scrutinized Walz’s state-employee vaccine mandate, grilling Walz officials over their rollout of the new rule. They are also pushing back against President Biden’s federal vaccine mandate in nursing homes, holding a hearing recently to warn it could make workforce shortages worse.

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Ricardo Lopez
Ricardo Lopez

Ricardo Lopez is the senior political reporter for the Reformer. Ricardo is not new to Minnesota politics, previously reporting on the Dayton administration and statehouse for The Star Tribune from 2014 to 2017, and the Republican National Convention in 2016. Previously, he was a staff writer at The Los Angeles Times covering the California economy. He's a Las Vegas native who has adopted Minnesota as his home state. In his spare time, he likes to run, cook and volunteer with Save-a-Bull, a Minneapolis dog rescue group.

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