Minnesota governor extends peacetime emergency through May 13

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz has ordered his peacetime emergency be extended through May 13 to slow the spread of COVID-19 in the state. 

Walz has used sweeping powers under the emergency declaration to force thousands of businesses and schools to close, activate the National Guard, and halt evictions. The governor said Monday he would not allow the economy to fully reopen until the state dramatically scales up its capacity to test people for the virus.

Walz declared the peacetime emergency one month ago, when there were fewer than 15 coronavirus cases in the state. As of Monday, there are 1,650. The order was due to expire this week, and Walz's decision to extend it came as Republicans urged him to lay out plans to restart the economy. 

"Yes, we all want to open up tomorrow. But people will die if we do that without having things in place," Walz told reporters on his daily teleconference. "There’s not a debate here about whether we need to get the economy reopened. Of course we do."

Minnesota's stay-at-home order remains unchanged, ending on May 4.

Walz said Monday that Minnesota needs to do 40,000 tests per week to effectively predict hotspots and isolate vulnerable people. But the state has not done 40,000 tests to date, only 38,427 as of Monday.

"Those people who are saying, open the economy. You’re right," Walz said. "To do so, we need to be testing 5,000 people a day and that needs to happen as soon as possible." 

Walz's target would be more than triple the state's current testing capacity. Minnesota's health department and external laboratory partners tested an average of 1,500 people a day last week, state data indicate. 

The state Legislature has the power to end any peacetime emergency that extends beyond 30 days, as Walz’s order will this week, but the divided House and Senate lack the votes to do so.

Republicans said Walz appears to lack a plan on how to restart the state's economy, which has shed 428,000 jobs since the middle of March. The number represents 13.7 percent of the state's labor force.

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka said the first-term Democratic governor needed to quickly lay out his plan for a restart.

"He clearly understands the healthcare emergency caused by the COVID-19 virus. We need to be assured he also understands the economic emergency caused by his response," Gazelka said in an emailed statement.

Other GOP lawmakers said Monday they wanted the governor to take a more incremental step, allowing restaurants to sell beer and wine with takeout food. The change would allow restaurant owners to sell excess inventory and make money while their dining rooms are closed, the lawmakers said.

"I recognize wine and beer isn’t the most pressing issue right now. But the jobs are and that’s what’s important," said state Rep. Jon Koznick, R-Lakeville.

Walz said he was "totally supportive" of the idea but punted the issue to the Legislature, saying he would sign a bill but was concerned about a legal challenge if he were to issue an executive order.

Koznick said the legislative process works too slowly to pass a bill Tuesday, when the House and Senate are next in session, and called on Walz to issue an order.

As of April 13, 70 Minnesotans have died from the coronavirus, with an additional 74 in intensive care. The state's modeling has predicted 22,000 Minnesotans will ultimately die from the virus, with multiple infection peaks coming over more than a year.