Walz: No plans to impose COVID-19 emergency, mask mandate over rising cases

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz says his administration is not considering a new peacetime emergency or mask mandate to handle increasing COVID-19 infections.

Walz, speaking to FOX 9 at the Minnesota State Fair, said people will need to safely live with the pandemic, potentially for years to come.

"We're going to have to live with it," Walz said. "That doesn't mean we put people at risk. It means we figure out how to get vaccinated and then how to wear masks."

Walz didn't close the door entirely on renewed restrictions: he said if infections and hospitalizations soar to levels seen in November and December 2020, the conversation would change.

"That's not happening now," he said.

As of Wednesday, 584 Minnesotans were hospitalized with the virus, compared with 90 on July 14. The hospitalization numbers are approaching the spring 2021 peak, when 699 people were hospitalized. Both of this year's waves are less severe as last fall's surge, when more than 1,800 people were hospitalized around Thanksgiving.

Walz declared a peacetime emergency in March 2020 that continued until the state Legislature ended it this June. He also had a 10-month-long mask mandate that became a political dividing point.

As he gears up for a likely re-election campaign in 2022, his handling of the pandemic will be a key issue. Former state Sen. Scott Jensen, the top Republican currently in the GOP primary, has made COVID-19 a central focus of his campaign. State Sen. Michelle Benson, who is planning a run, is the Senate Health committee chairwoman with oversight on Walz's public health efforts.

Walz warned the State Fair Board that it should impose a mask requirement or watch attendance numbers drop. The fair is not requiring masks.

State health officials are holding a vaccine clinic at the North End Event Center, offering a $100 Visa gift card to the first 3,600 people who get a shot on-site. About 20 people were lined up when the clinic opened at 9 a.m. Thursday.

Wayne Marshall was the first to emerge with his Johnson & Johnson vaccine and gift card. It was finally time to get a shot, Marshall said.

"Things aren't going well in other parts of the country, so I've got to do my part," he said.