Local View: Minnesota must pull together like never before to counter COVID-19

We have a choice to work better together or accept the suffering that accompanies ignorance.


Minnesotans are facing growing challenges that are shaping our future.

Most pressing are increasing impacts from the COVID-19 crisis in northern Minnesota. This global virus began in Wuhan in China but was ignored by President Donald Trump and his administration, even after intelligence briefings about its probable impacts on our United States.

Minnesota has invested in technology, service, buildings, and networks to nurture our health. This conventional investment in health services is threatened, however, by the rapid rise of infections in Minnesota. Limited hospital space and staff time have been outpaced by the explosion of infections and deaths (“ COVID-19 cases skyrocket in St. Louis County with 320 new infections ,” Nov. 12).

My family ran into a tragic illustration recently when a longtime friend and community leader from north of Duluth needed care in an area hospital with ICU support. Sadly, she was refused because there was no open intensive-care space, and she died. This example dramatized how dependent we are on each other and our institutions. Health leaders in northern Minnesota dance on this tragic tightrope each week.

Our future will be colored by how well we respond locally to this global health challenge. Duluth’s area hospitals are approaching their peak capacity for health services, tools, and space. They see more tragedies each day and require our support. Without added awareness and teamwork, northern Minnesota will enable more infections and deaths.


Tragically, the federal budget from the Trump administration cut the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention budget in 2018 and abandoned our institutional preparedness for a pandemic challenge to the nation like this one. This global ignorance was aggravated by Trump’s unwillingness to offer federal leadership to states, which were unprepared for the timing and budget and staffing impacts from the explosive virus.

Today, the World Health Organization has tallied 134 million infections — and counting. The U.S. currently has 10 million of those infections. And Minnesotans make up approximately 190,000 of the 10 million in the U.S.

But we see no leadership from Trump, who is busy with more golfing. And he continues to deny the facts of the presidential election, claiming inaccurately that there was voter fraud — even as bipartisan team leaders from 50 states say there has been a huge victory for President-elect Joe Biden.

Biden’s campaign included a virus response, and Trump seems threatened now by Biden’s leadership. Trump has refused to authorize federal agency space via the General Services Administration or intelligence to the Biden transition team.

Gov. Tim Walz has outlined his statewide plan to reduce suffering and tragedies caused by COVID-19 in Minnesota. His plans to reduce the infections and deaths in Minnesota include more mask wearing, more social distancing, and reductions in the sizes of gatherings and hours of operation at bars and restaurants. These limits were identified from recent assessments of Minnesota’s contagion patterns. The goal is not to slow the economy but to reduce the rate of contamination, infection, and death.

Clearly, we cannot lower the rate of infection and death without first addressing the pattern of contamination. Without federal leadership, states like Minnesota and Wisconsin are moving in a similar direction to protect their kin and communities.

Health leaders understand we are approaching the maximum capacity of our health care system. If we do not unite and recognize our interdependence and need for new rules that help us win this struggle with the virus, our kids, parents, and elders will suffer.

Our loss has been huge. We have a choice to work better together or accept the suffering that accompanies ignorance. Minnesota’s infections and deaths may double before everyone is vaccinated in 2021 if we fail to pull together.


Bill Mittlefehldt of Duluth is retired from teaching economics and civics. He has served Northeastern Minnesota as a state energy coordinator and consults with communities interested in problem-solving and sustainability.

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Bill Mittlefehldt

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