In Response: Strong leadership will see us through this health crisis

Quinn Nystrom.jpg
Quinn Nystrom (Submitted photo)

If you read Congressman Pete Stauber’s April 24 op-ed in the News Tribune (Congressman's View: “As we fight the coronavirus, we must also map a path back to economic prosperity”), you may have gotten the impression that our congressman has forgotten that the coronavirus pandemic is a health crisis.

Our economy won’t recover until people feel safe. We haven’t hit the peak of infections in Minnesota. New cases are rising exponentially. The same day our congressman told his supporters via email that the Democratic House speaker was “blocking us from returning to work,” we had our highest single-day death toll to date. The truth is that responsible elected officials are trying to stop people from dying.

If you talk to Minnesotans, you find that they’re petrified that they or a loved one will be infected by the coronavirus. I’ve spoken to eight people who think they have COVID-19 and haven’t been able to get a test. The virus just killed my dad’s best friend. It’s heartbreaking.

Right now, our elected officials need to keep us safe and support those of us who can’t make ends meet. Gov. Tim Walz has done a great job of this. I was especially encouraged to see testing expanded in partnership with the Mayo Clinic.

I’ve been less impressed with Rep. Stauber, who failed to join a letter in March from the Minnesota delegation to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar asking him to provide Minnesotans with personal protective equipment from the Strategic National Stockpile.


Like other small-business owners, I have been hit hard by this pandemic. I’ve lost over 90% of my income and am struggling to pay the bills. My business, which teaches medical professionals how to communicate to patients with chronic diseases, doesn’t qualify for the small-business loans Congress approved. And I haven’t been able to get unemployment benefits. Like many Americans, I fell through the cracks while big corporations got the lion’s share of support.

I’ll figure out my finances, but many Minnesotans won’t. Three Iron Range taconite mines recently closed, together laying off 1,500 workers, while a fourth mine laid off 260 miners because the demand for steel has plummeted during this crisis. Many businesses that rely on those mines will close permanently. Many resorts and restaurants that rely on those miners having disposable income won’t open their doors again.

Congress must do more. It must provide more money to the states so they can process their backlogs of unemployment claims, expand small-business loans so they don't just help those at the top, give people more than one $1,200 check, and get more personal protective equipment to our health care workers. What good is expanded unemployment, a small-business loan, or a $1,200 check if, like tens of millions of Americans, you haven’t been able to access those services?

This pandemic has also exposed how close to the edge we’ve been living. As a city councilor and health care activist, I receive calls every week, and have for years, asking me for help figuring out how to get the prescription drugs that are needed but can’t be afforded. Now, some are being asked to stockpile their medication when they couldn’t afford one week’s supply in the first place.

Insulin, cancer medications, eye drops, EpiPens, and more: too many prescription drugs are unaffordable. Too many Americans are rationing their prescriptions to make them last longer. Too many were already making the painful choice between going to the grocery store or the pharmacy. This was happening before this pandemic. It’s exponentially worse now.

Washington can’t waste its time finger-pointing. It’ll take strong leadership to see us through this pandemic. The biggest mistake we can make is to rush past the recommendations of scientists and health experts, causing a second wave of the pandemic that would force our economy to a halt again.

As we bring ourselves through this crisis, we cannot forget about the cracks in our system. We must make prescription drugs — and all health care — affordable.

Quinn Nystrom of Baxter, Minnesota, is one of three candidates vying this year for the DFL nomination in Minnesota’s Eighth Congressional District. The others are Soren Sorensen of Bemidji, Minnesota, and Gaylene Spolarich of Palisade, Minnesota. The district is represented by Republican U.S. Rep. Pete Stauber of Hermantown.

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