Exactly 14 months after Minnesota announced its first confirmed case of COVID-19, Gov. Tim Walz offered up a hopeful vision of the very near future.
“We’re going to have a summer where just the simple pleasures will be back again," the governor said during a Thursday afternoon address.
But Walz was quick to stress he believes the state isn't yet out of the woods, and that the key to the much-sought return to normalcy lies in the vaccination rate.
“We are still losing Minnesotans today" - another 13, according to the latest update - "and we can save those lives if we get folks vaccinated and we continue a little while longer on the things that need to be done," he said.
Mask mandate ends July 1 - no matter what
Walz briefly went over his previously announced three-step plan for ending COVID-19 restrictions in Minnesota. The final phase, an end to the statewide mask mandate full-stop, may come quicker if the state reaches a 70% vaccination rate (among those age 16 and up) before July 1. Currently, about 59% of the 16-plus population has received at least one shot.
The magic number to get to 70%, as of Thursday: 473,000 more doses, Walz said, noting at a later press conference the state has the capacity to do 50,000-60,000 vaccinations a day if demand is there.
In a press conference after the address, Walz noted the mask mandate will end July 1 even if the 70% marker isn't reached.
"And then of course, what we're all going to do, we're going to have a great summer. And this is right in front of us, right now."
'It's. Your. Turn. ... Get your vaccine'
Speaking directly to Minnesotans who waited their turn to allow more vulnerable members of society get the vaccine first, Walz was emphatic.
"It's. Your. Turn," he said. "If you're out there right now, and you're 16 and above, get your vaccine. ... You need to help Minnesota now. I'm asking you, give us a hand to get this last little bit."
The governor also acknowledged there are individuals out there who may be hesitant or unconvinced. Vaccinations, he said, have been going on for about seven months now, across the country, and they've proven to be "incredibly safe and almost unimaginably effective."
"At this point in time, if you get this vaccine, you are not going to die from [COVID-19], and the chance of even being hospitalized is incredibly small," Walz said.
(Note: There have been a miniscule number of documented 'breakthrough' cases of COVID-19 among vaccinated patients that have resulted in death.)
He also noted the "social compact" that exists, saying if a group is excited to go to a Twins game, Somebody in that group needs to tell Larry he needs to go get his vaccine.”
Responding to criticism
On more than one occasion, Walz acknowledged the divisiveness the COVID-19 pandemic has fostered, including, in his post-address press conference, the mask mandate.
“The politicization around masks, I think history is going to write as one of the worst things that happened to this country,” Walz said, calling it "stupid" while noting the pushback cost lives despite being "one of the least-intrusive things" that could be done.
The governor said he's hopeful the announcement of a clear finish line will also motivate vaccine skeptics - no longer wary of goal posts moving, and with an end in sight - to get a shot.
"I'm going to keep harping on this. I know you're sick of seeing me, in particular, on this," Walz said. "The way to not see me anymore is, get a vaccine and end this thing. ... And those of you who have been hesitant on this and you're looking forward to [the end of restrictions] and you've been frustrated and you think I've gotten this wrong: get the vaccine to make sure you're around next November. Than you can cast that vote. This is your time.
"Don't blow this now. We've got the chance to get there."