MANKATO — Gov. Tim Walz plans to announce efforts to reopen parts of Minnesota’s economy today, but area lawmakers aren’t sure just how fast the state should lift its peacetime restrictions.
“There’s nobody that’s opposed to the idea of reopening things,” said Rep. Jack Considine, DFL-Mankato. “Nobody wants to have business down further than they have to be. But we have to be careful and cautious about how we do it.”
Some local legislators say Minnesota needs to lift its restrictions on businesses and public spaces sooner rather than later to avoid further economic pain. Others say it’s too soon to open up the state entirely, as Georgia has done.
“We’re still not out of the woods yet,” said Rep. Jeff Brand, DFL-St. Peter.
Republican lawmakers sent a letter to the governor Wednesday asking him to lift health care restrictions so Minnesotans can seek treatment for other issues besides COVID-19. Area Republicans support lifting those restrictions, but some, such as Rep. Jeremy Munson, R-Lake Crystal, would like to see the state do more to get things back to normal.
“From a public health standpoint, we need to build herd immunity. With everybody staying home, we’re not doing that,” he said.
Munson has been among the most outspoken critics of the governor’s peacetime emergency declarations. He took part in the rally at the governor’s mansion in St. Paul earlier this month to end the declarations, in part because he believes the Legislature needs to have more of a say in the state’s public health decisions.
Aside from opening up more retail shops and small businesses, such as pet groomers who could restrict the number of pets they work with, Munson said he would like to see schools open up sooner than later.
Munson said he was concerned children wouldn’t be able to build an immunity to other diseases aside from COVID-19 once flu season hits in the fall.
“I think it’s important to have more people building immunity to this throughout the summer,” he said. “There’s a move to try to wait until we have more tests available, but testing should not be a requirement to move toward reopening businesses.
“For one thing, some of the tests aren’t always accurate. And the tests that we do have don’t always work fast enough. They take a couple of days. The best results you’re going to get was who was highly contagious yesterday, which could be a false positive.”
Munson said people should still take protective measures against the virus such as social distancing and washing their hands more, but individuals should be able to choose when and where they go out.
Other area Republicans aren’t as optimistic about reopening the state as Munson, but they say there could be more open businesses. Sen. Rich Draheim, R-Madison Lake, said he’d like to see schools work toward opening up, though he believes large gatherings should be the last thing to be reinstated.
“I think the teachers miss their kids, and I think the kids miss their teachers,” Draheim said. “I would hope they could go back to the last week of school or something. I think it’s probably doing more emotional harm than good.”
Rep. Paul Torkelson, R-Hanska, said he considers opening up schools before the summer a moot point given the governor’s recent orders, but he’d at least like to see high schools honor graduating seniors via a virtual ceremony or at a spread-out outdoor event. And he agrees with his Republican colleagues that more businesses could be open.
He and other Republicans argue larger businesses such as Walmart and Target haven’t gone through the same scrutiny as smaller shops, though they deal in a lot more foot traffic than other retail stores. They say the state should more evenly apply restrictions or, better yet, lift a majority of them while still keeping public health in mind.
Area Democrats say they’d like to be more cautious. Considine said he’d rather wait to see how states such as Georgia that are lifting their restrictions fare in fighting the virus before committing to reopening.
Area Democrats say they wouldn’t support schools opening up before the summer, however.
Brand has publicly criticized Munson for taking part in the governor’s mansion rally and potentially endangering others. He said Tuesday the urge to reopen the state sooner rather than later “flies in the whole face of sound of sound science and evidential thinking.”
“I get having freedom, but if freedom means you get sick and give other people a deadly virus, that doesn’t seem to me to be very fair to others. You’re taking away their freedom at that point,” Brand said.
Above all, area lawmakers say some public health restrictions aren’t likely to go away any time soon.
“It’s finally starting to dawn on people that this isn’t something that’s going to be even a couple of weeks or a couple of months and it’s done,” Considine said. “It’s going to take a while before we can safely reopen. Even when we do, there’s going to be problems.”