Gov. Tim Walz says the politics of COVID-19 is among the reasons why he hasn't used his emergency powers to combat the spread of the virus in Minnesota.
Walz on Wednesday said Minnesotans know the tools that would help the COVID-19 pandemic and there is a "list of very simple things" the Legislature could do to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Using those tools and asking Minnesotans to implement them "is our surest way" to end the current surge Minnesota is experiencing.
When asked if calling another state of emergency is on the table for him at this point, Gov. Walz said he needs his team in place to bring Minnesota out of this pandemic.
He is referencing the fact that if he uses his emergency powers it would trigger a special session of the Minnesota Legislature. Republican lawmakers said they would remove Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm if he uses his powers.
Walz said he doesn't want to do anything to jeopardize having his commissioners in place at this "critical" time, later adding removing Malcolm would "cripple" the state's response to the pandemic.
"We all know there is no correlation to me using emergency powers that actually show it protected people or made a difference. It's the political side of it, and so at this point in time, we've got work to do. I know I'm getting no help from the Senate and because of that, I'm continuing to focus on the tools that will make the biggest difference. And that's where I'm going to stay," Walz said.
Walz then clarified what he said, saying using his emergency powers made a difference pre-vaccine but they are not as effective of a tool currently, noting there are few things he could do via emergency powers to help things now.
"This is not about holding back and saying, 'Well if the governor would just call a peacetime emergency our death rates would go down,'" Walz said. "That is demonstrably false at this point in time, especially if people do not follow them. What we do know, and the data supports this, is vaccines, boosters and getting these 5- to 11-year-olds done is the most effective thing we can do."
Walz stressed the importance of having Malcolm at the helm of MDH, noting removing the person in charge of vaccine rollouts and other key pieces in fighting the pandemic, would hamper the state's efforts. And using his emergency powers come at a "heavy price" with the Republican senators.
He said the Senate said it wanted to be included in decisions about the pandemic, and if they aren't, they're going to shut down state government and fire commissioners.
"I will continue to protect Minnesotans. I will continue to use the tools that we can. I think the tools that we can are very effective. I do need some help from the legislature but the trade-off of using it [emergency powers] to get some things done. And we're at a different point in the pandemic, to be very clear, using some of the emergency authority was pre-vaccines, it was things that we didn't know what we could do about testing.
"So I want to be clear — those things made a difference but would they make a difference now? Potentially, yes. But the trade-off is that how much damage do they do to do to my ability to do things that we really know. I can't afford to lose someone at the Department of Health who is getting these vaccines out and making a difference, and that's the threat that is hanging there.
"I want to be clear: It worked. We made a difference. Our data shows that to be true. But what I know right now, the reality is, I have to use the tools that are at my disposal that are making a difference. And we are, we're vaccinating at a rate higher than anybody else in the country, but it's here.
Walz said that if he believed he could declare a peacetime emergency and save a life by doing it, he would call a peacetime emergency. However, he says, the "tools are different now," noting the data doesn't support shutting down businesses and a mask mandate as a tool to mitigate "where we're at right now."
The governor questioned how many people would "simply not do" a mask mandate again, noting the people COVID-19 is harming now is the unvaccinated. And hospitals are already limiting selective surgeries to save resources.
The Minnesota Medical Association this week said 70% of all COVID-19 patients hospitalized in Minnesota are unvaccinated. There are currently 1,382 patients being treated for COVID.
What Walz needs from people is for them to be vaccinated and some "relief around the regulations and ability to take the pressure off of the hospitals," Walz said, adding there isn't a piece of the emergency powers that would do it.
Walz said this is where the Legislature said it wanted to be but it hasn't helped with those "simple" things. He added that he would "really encourage" the Legislature to try and lift a hand but he's "not so hopeful on that."