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Tribune Opinion: It's time to get on right side of Minnesota's COVID-19 fight

Minnesota's COVID-19 crisis is not over. It's time politicians quit playing politics and work on the issues that save Minnesota lives.

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Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, on Monday, July 13, 2020, spoke on the Minnesota Senate floor in opposition to the extension of a peacetime emergency for COVID-19. Dana Ferguson / Forum News Service

The Legislature's Republican-led Senate is straying toward the wrong side of Minnesota history, seeking to ease Minnesota efforts in the battle against COVID-19 pandemic.

While Senate Republicans argued Monday that the coronavirus pandemic continues in Minnesota, they claimed the need for the state of peacetime emergency has passed. They spent the first segment of the current special session debating and voting to rescind Gov. Tim Walz's decision to extend for 30 days the current state of emergency. Soon after voting Monday to end the governor's emergency powers, the Minnesota Senate adjourned until next week.

The Senate voted to end the emergency measures on a day when Minnesota reported 499 new COVID-19 cases. The state reported Saturday a high of 806 new cases. The statewide death toll climbed to 1,510, as of Tuesday.

In addition, the median age of cases in Minnesota continued to drop and has now reached 37.6. Over the weekend, Minnesota health systems reported in excess of 15,000 tests for three straight days. In fact, there were 77,000 new tests in the previous five days.

Looks like Minnesotans really believe the COVID-19 emergency has eased in Minnesota. Duh?

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Under guidance from Gov. Walz's administration, Minnesota has successfully flattened the curve of the coronavirus in Minnesota.

Even Sen. Andrew Lang, R-Olivia, agreed, in his news release, that Minnesota has successfully "flattened the curve" but he still voted to remove Walz's emergency powers.

"The 'emergency' portion of the COVID outbreak is over," said Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, Monday in his news release. Newman also voted to end the emergency measures.

“COVID-19 continues to present an unprecedented and rapidly evolving challenge to our state,” Walz said in a news release. “The peacetime emergency has provided us tools to save lives and mitigate the devastating impacts of this pandemic."

Walz is right.

Unfortunately, the pandemic is currently on the march as a second wave spreads across much of America, especially in southern states.

More than 20 states — under the leadership of both Democrat and Republican governors — are now mandating masks in public. As the second outbreak of COVID-19 spreads, the states of California and Louisiana joined Texas, Florida and the city of Las Vegas in closing bars and restaurants again hoping to slow an exploding second wave.

While calling on all Minnesotans to wear masks, Walz has conservatively resisted a mandatory facemask in public order. However, it is under consideration if Minnesota cases escalate significantly.

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State Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, opposes a statewide mandate requiring masks, while U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, has repeatedly said wearing a mask is the most important action Americans can take in the coronavirus fight.

McConnell is right.

Gazelka said Monday that Minnesota schools should be "opened up for the classroom setting," noting no Minnesota child has yet died from COVID-19. However, Minnesota teachers and educational leaders have died from COVID-19, including the St. Paul school board chairperson.

Gazelka claimed all decisions should be left to the individual school districts, just like the state does with the flu outbreaks. "If 10% of a school has it, they close it down for a week," Gazelka said.

Yet the recommended isolation period following COVID-19 exposure is 14 days, significantly more than a week.

Well, Sens. Gazelka, Lang and Newman, COVID-19 is not the flu.

To quote a Kentucky county sheriff who just returned home on the Fourth of July weekend with his family from a Montana-Wyoming RV trip. He and his family developed symptoms on July 6. Grayson County Sheriff Norman Chaffins said last week that COVID-19 has been the worst ailment he’s experienced, which includes the flu, the mumps, chickenpox, measles, a broken neck and a total knee replacement.

“I want you to wear a mask because I do not want ANYONE to have to go through what I went through,” he told the Lexington Herald-Leader.

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It's time for politicians to stop playing COVID-19 politics, striving to make political points. Quit holding hearings about pulled-down statues and get on with the critical legislative business that impacts Minnesotans' lives — police reform, state bonding and working together with the Walz administration to maintain Minnesota's control in the coronavirus pandemic.

Minnesota lives depend upon it.

This editorial is the opinion of the West Central Tribune's editorial board, consisting of publisher Steve Ammermann and editor Kelly Boldan.

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