ST. PAUL — President Donald Trump on Friday, April 17 issued a call to "liberate Minnesota" hours before opponents of Gov. Tim Walz's stay at home order were set to protest at the governor's residence.
Trump in a series of tweets called for the "liberation" of Michigan, Minnesota and Virginia, states controlled by Democratic governors that have issued orders limiting travel and social gathering during the COVID-19 pandemic and states viewed as potential battleground states in the 2020 presidential contest.
The comment came a day after the president presented a plan to gradually reopen businesses around the country. Once testing is widely available, the plan would let states assess whether business owners and workers can go back to more normal operations with social distancing measures in place. The guidance allowed for flexibility for governors to roll out plans that fit the individual needs of their states.
The president's two-word tweet seemed to throw support behind protesters who demonstrated outside the governor's residence in St. Paul urging state officials to reopen the state's economy.
Minnesota on Friday posted its highest one-day increase in confirmed COVID-19 cases and deaths to date, according to state health officials. And state leaders said Minnesotans' efforts to slow the spread of the disease had helped curve its projected transmission.
But that progress could be lost, they warned, if the state returned to normal too quickly and without adequate measures to stop the disease.
“We have done a really good job,” Walz said. “But I really worry that right at the time this is getting really hard is when we are maybe starting to move toward the peak.”
The governor said he supported the Trump administration's plan to let states gradually reopen businesses and said the state had the resources to start determining which could reopen with recommended social distancing guidelines. But he raised concerns about Trump's message about "liberating" the state without clear guidelines.
Walz said he'd called Trump administration officials for follow-up Friday to no avail.
"I'd like to know what they think we could have done differently. Because again we are leading as we were asked. We flattened the curve," Walz told reporters. "We've built up our (personal protective equipment), we've kept Minnesotans alive and we're moving people back into the workforce in a safe manner, I would argue we're doing everything that they're telling us do but the difference is I actually have to do it here."
A call to 'open up'
At about noon on Friday, hundreds gathered outside the governor's residence in St. Paul, standing closer to one another than the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's six-foot social distancing recommendation. "Don't tread on me," Trump 2020 and American flags blew in the wind as protesters shouted, cheered, rang cowbells and blared their car horns.
Some protesters argued that the state's stay at home order violates personal liberties and epitomizes big government control, one man shouting in a megaphone that the state is living under tyranny. Others focused on the shutdown's economic impact, now that nearly half a million Minnesotans have applied for unemployment benefits.
Their handmade signs read messages like "let my people go" and "end the shutdown." A handful donned surgical masks and practiced social distancing, while dozens of others stood arm to arm on the sidewalks and lawns outside the residence, yelling, "open up." Dozens drove by in their cars, blaring their horns and draping flags and signs out their windows.
A spokesperson from the St. Paul Police Department said no arrests were made, and they estimated approximately 800 people were present, not including passerbys and those who drove by.
LIBERATE MINNESOTA!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 17, 2020
Republican U.S. Senate candidate Jason Lewis as part of the movement said he planned to launch a "Re-Open Minnesota" RV tour around the state with the first visits set to take place Friday in the Twin Cities metro area. He shook hands at the protests and stood alongside demonstrators near the governor's residence.
GOP lawmakers and business owners frustrated by the restrictions have urged the Walz administration for quicker action in re-opening parts of the state to keep Minnesota's economy afloat. Earlier in the week they attempted and failed to end the governor's peacetime emergency, which extends his authority to issue executive orders.
House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt on Friday said the order was a positive step but urged the governor to do more to re-open the economy.
"While common sense prevailed with today's executive order, we need to move quickly to help more of our businesses safely open their doors and get Minnesotans back working again," the Crown Republican said in a statement.
Minnesota and all but a handful of states around the country have entered into stay at home orders during the pandemic to limit the illness' spread and potential to overwhelm the state's hospitals. Walz has extended the order in Minnesota until May 4 and on Friday, minutes after Trump's comment announced that golf courses, boating resources, shooting ranges and public and private parks and trails would reopen with new constraints to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“We know we can do these things, with lessons learned over the last several weeks,” Walz told reporters. “Don’t travel all over the state, don’t travel up north now and crowd rural hospital situations … get to where you can distance, get to a course nearby you, get out to a lake, get to a park.”
Walz said news about whether school closures and the stay at home order would continue past May 4 would come closer to that date.
And he said larger congregating spaces like movie theaters and sports stadiums would likely be some of the last to reopen while smaller businesses like hair salons or small stores could have that option sooner.
159 new COVID-19 cases reported, 17 additional deaths
The Minnesota Department of Health on Friday, April 17, reported 159 new cases of COVID-19 in Minnesota and 17 more deaths reported from the illness and its complications. That increase in deaths marks the largest one-day increase to date.
State health authorities said 2,071 total cases of COVID-19 had been reported in Minnesota of 43,053 tests administered. Health officials note that the number likely undercounts the total number of Minnesotans who have or have had the disease due to lack of testing resources in the state.
In total, 111 have died from the illness or complications and 223 were hospitalized Friday. Another 1,066 had recovered from COVID-19 and were out of isolation. And 106 were in intensive care units due to the illness.
Among the new cases detected were around 30 in Nobles County, state health officials said, where a likely cluster of cases was detected at the JBS pork processing facility. State and local officials were working to test more workers and to trace the spread of the illness in the Worthington community.
Forum News Service reporter Sarah Mearhoff contributed to this story from St. Paul.
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Minnesota Department of Health COVID-19 hotline: 651-201-3920.
COVID-19 discrimination hotline: 833-454-0148
Minnesota Department of Health COVID-19 website: Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) website.