As Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz and Shaye Moris toured warehouse aisles and refrigerated sections stocked with food Friday, Moris made a point reflective of how the COVID-19 pandemic seems to rise and fall depending on how well the community responds to preventative measures.

“We saw a big surge (in food bank usage) back in March and April,” Moris, executive director for Duluth’s Second Harvest Northern Lakes Food Bank, said. “Then it leveled off. But it’s making a rebound.”

More people are using the food bank and the 30 pantries and food shelves across the region that it serves.

To help get back to level, Walz and Moris joined with state Rep. Jen Schultz and Sen. Erik Simonson to promote the 400,000 face masks being distributed statewide through food access programs.

District 07A Rep. Jen Schultz, DFL, speaks about masks Friday following a tour at Second Harvest Northern Lakes Food Bank. (Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com)
District 07A Rep. Jen Schultz, DFL, speaks about masks Friday following a tour at Second Harvest Northern Lakes Food Bank. (Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com)

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The masks were part of 4 million being distributed to businesses by the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, Walz said.

“We’re using this (food) network to highlight one of the ways that all of us can help bend the curve, keep our businesses open, and get our little ones back in school by wearing a mask,” the governor said.

Walz used an executive order to implement a statewide mask mandate that began July 25. Now two weeks old, he expects to start seeing the results of the mandate soon, by Aug. 15, he told media assembled outside the food bank located in the Duluth Airpark.

Walz noted the current spike in cases in St. Louis County, where July saw more than half of its roughly 500 cases. He referenced the positivity rate — the percentage of positive cases among people being tested.

“Our positive rate is hovering around 5%,” Walz said. “We need to follow the science; we need to stay optimistic that we can beat this thing. Today was the first day in a month we saw a positivity rate of about 3.5%. Whether that’s an indicator of a trend, we’ll have to wait and see. … We don’t want to end up where we’re in a situation where it goes up to about 20% like we saw in southern states, or even 30% in Arizona.”

Molly Noake holds her daughter Afton, 4, who playfully covers her entire face with her mask while listening to Gov. Tim Walz Friday outside of Second Harvest Northern Lakes Food Bank. (Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com)
Molly Noake holds her daughter Afton, 4, who playfully covers her entire face with her mask while listening to Gov. Tim Walz Friday outside of Second Harvest Northern Lakes Food Bank. (Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com)

Schultz, a Democrat who represents eastern Duluth in District 7A, applauded Walz for the mask mandate.

“I’m grateful Gov. Walz continues to have emergency powers to act quickly,” Schultz said. “We cannot at the Legislature, especially a divided Legislature, act quickly enough to respond to this crisis.”

Later in the day, Walz announced he will convene a special legislative session beginning Wednesday, with an intent to extend the COVID-19 peacetime emergency by another 30 days.

Moris was grateful for the Democratic governor’s presence, too. As they walked the 24,000-square-foot warehouse filled with supplies, she noted the crate of masks that will be delivered to people and families receiving food.

“It’s really important, because we know that many of the people who receive our food assistance have compromised health issues,” she said, citing a group of people vulnerable to the most deleterious effects of the coronavirus. “It’s important we’re keeping them safe.”

Gov. Tim Walz speaks Friday outside of Second Harvest Northern Lakes Food Bank in Duluth about the distribution of 400,000 masks to Minnesotans who can't afford or easily obtain them. (Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com)
Gov. Tim Walz speaks Friday outside of Second Harvest Northern Lakes Food Bank in Duluth about the distribution of 400,000 masks to Minnesotans who can't afford or easily obtain them. (Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com)

After passing by large boxes full of fresh corn on the cob and other items, such as cherries, Moris called it “a critical time” to be able to provide people with fresh fruits and vegetables.

In a pandemic world that can feel out of control, Walz said it’s within everyone’s power to wear a mask, social distance and wash their hands regularly. He noted New York City, once of the world’s hotspots for the virus, and how it currently is reporting a positivity rate of slightly over 1%.

“If we get to the point where this thing is not spreading between people — where one person is giving it to two or three people — you can get a handle on this and push this down and we can get back to the things we really like doing," Walz said.