Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Minnesota Democratic Gov. Tim Walz has had an impossible job. His first priority has been public safety, followed by the economic health of individuals and businesses.
His critics often rebuked him for measures he implemented under his emergency authority. They were critical of business and school closures. They wanted bars and restaurants open sooner and at higher capacity, despite evidence showing it would accelerate COVID-19 cases and deaths. They pointed to South Dakota, Florida, and Texas as models of what Minnesota should be doing.
Minnesota has one of the lowest death rates per 100,000 population among the states due to the measures imposed by Walz. If you take the number of cases in Minnesota as of Sunday and apply the death rates in other states whose policies were not as stringent, we would have had far more deaths.
Using South Dakota’s light approach, Minnesota would have seen an additional 2,200 deaths. Using Texas’ policies, we would have seen nearly 2,800 more deaths.
“My top priority remains the health and safety of Minnesotans,” Walz said in extending his emergency powers last October. “As we watch cases rise dramatically in states around us, we must double down in our efforts to protect Minnesota from the spread of COVID-19.”
Doubling down meant hardships for businesses and parents whose kids weren’t in school. Without a paycheck, many relied on state and federal unemployment checks to pay their bills. Businesses were saved by the federal Paycheck Protection Program, but it wasn’t the same as being open. There were mental health concerns for both adults and kids stuck at home.
Walz understood the consequences. On a battlefield, the term “acceptable losses” is sometimes used to define the cost of success. Were those acceptable losses to be in lives or challenges to individuals and businesses trying to cope with the pandemic? Walz chose to protect lives.
“Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion,” British statesman Edmund Burke said. An elected official owes his constituents “his unbiased opinion, his mature judgment, his enlightened conscience.”
Few politicians today have the moral courage to stand by these words Burke spoke 247 years ago. We live in an age where craven catering to public impatience, prejudice, and gullibility to every concocted and outlandish statement on the internet is taken as gospel. But we can’t be too harsh on today’s politicians, for self-serving calculation has been the dominant trait of political survival for ages for many of them.
Yet we know that popular sentiment is a wave that those who are truly passionate about a cause ride with enthusiasm even when the cause crashes against the rocks of reality leaving those who generated it broken. We need to look no further than the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol to illustrate this point.
For a profile in political and moral courage, we need look no further than Republican U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney.
It’s tough to stand by your educated judgment, informed and backed by hard scientific data, as well as the counsel of the best medical experts in the country when your opponents whip up populist sentiment against you. The burden of consequences doesn’t weigh on their shoulders; they receive praise free of responsibility.
Friday, we saw the end of the state’s mask mandate. It was a day to celebrate the freedom to be with friends and family after more than a year of hardship. That freedom doesn’t come with an end to COVID-19 cases or deaths. They will continue. The number of deaths we will record is still related to individual behavior.
“We have all longed for this moment – when we can get back to some sense of normalcy,” Rochelle Walensky, director of the CDC, said at a White House briefing. Mask freedom comes thanks to vaccine science showing how effective they are.
“Anyone who is fully vaccinated can participate in indoor and outdoor activities – large or small – without wearing a mask or physically distancing,” Walensky said. “If you are fully vaccinated, you can start doing the things that you had stopped doing because of the pandemic.”
Our newfound freedom doesn’t come with an end to COVID-19 cases or deaths. They will continue. The number of deaths we will record are still related to individual behavior.
Those who have been anti-mask from when the requirement was implemented in Minnesota July 22, 2020, have been protected by those who complied.
Those who have been vaccinated have been protecting those who refuse to get vaccinated. They are losing those protections.
In the coming weeks, the vast majority of those who become sick will be those who aren’t vaccinated. Most deaths will also be among this group in the days ahead.
For months, Republicans in the Minnesota Legislature have been seeking to strip Walz of his emergency powers, saying crucial decisions about closing schools and businesses should rest with them.
Minnesota has the only divided legislature in the nation, and that is probably a good thing. It means there must be compromise. On the other hand, legislators perpetually fail to meet deadlines for passing laws even after months of discussions.
When faced with a deadly pandemic, do we really want to hand over responsibility for protecting us to politicians seeking to score political points with their base? Or, are we better off with an executive who can respond swiftly to rapidly evolving challenges?
Walz has been above the political fray, following the science to implement the policies required to save Minnesota lives.