Walz: Loosening restrictions about 'striking a balance' between data, follow-through

A man stands in front of flags as he speaks at a podium.
Gov. Tim Walz speaks during a press conference Oct. 2. Walz spoke with MPR News host Cathy Wurzer to discuss the recent COVID-19 spike in Minnesota, the state's decision to ease visiting restrictions at long-term care facilities and more.
Peter Cox | MPR News file

On Monday, the state confirmed more than 1,000 new COVID-19 cases for the fifth straight day.

The spike comes as state officials relax some restrictions, including visits to nursing homes. Gov. Tim Walz spoke to MPR News host Cathy Wurzer about those decisions and the state’s latest planning around the pandemic.

You can hear their conversation using the audio player above.

On relaxing precautions as cases rise

Walz said he’s well aware that Minnesota is taking steps to relax precautions against spreading COVID-19, even as the pandemic widens in the state.

The governor defended the recent decision by his administration to allow more people to dine in together at restaurants, even as the average daily new case numbers in Minnesota hit record highs.

The state Health Department also just announced changes to open nursing homes to more visitors, even as long-term care residents represent the bulk of COVID-19 deaths in Minnesota.

"It is striking a balance between the best health data and the ability of people to follow along and maintain," he said. “But I agree the timing is tough on this. The Upper Midwest again, we’re a bit of an island, we'll have to watch it. My goal has always been to try to keep as much open as we could while still protecting Minnesotans."

Walz also said the changes aren’t an effort to win back Republican votes on key legislation. Walz has been losing support in greater Minnesota over his administration's mask mandate and ongoing social distancing restrictions.

On teacher impacts

Walz said he’s worried that the pandemic will have a grave impact on the ranks of teachers in schools across the state.

On Monday, the state’s teachers union released the results of a survey indicating nearly 30 percent are thinking of leaving the profession as they’ve struggled to work in an age of distance and hybrid learning.

The governor said half of new teachers already leave the profession in the first five years.

"And now the stress that's on them, we’re asking them to do things that have never asked and probably should probably never be asked," he said. "They have multiple delivery methods in teaching. They have their own families. You know we get in this business, myself and other teachers, because we love that contact with students, we love that interaction in the classroom and that's being denied."

Walz said his administration is talking to teachers and administrators about the issue, but also said that he thinks educators are finding ways to improve distance learning.

On the Michigan kidnapping plot

The governor said he feels safe, even as federal authorities announced indictments in a plot against Michigan’s governor by self-styled right-wing militia groups.

Walz wouldn’t say if the State Patrol has responded to any similar threats in Minnesota. The patrol oversees security for the governor.

But Walz did say he feels there is a real danger posed by the political acrimony that’s grown in the era of the coronavirus.

"I trust our team here. The State Patrol does a fantastic job. But I do think it's a sign of the times that we have to change our rhetoric and ratchet that down."

Walz said he considers Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer a colleague and called the alleged plot against her an unfortunate situation for democracy.