In State of the State address, Walz urges vigilance to push through end of pandemic

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Gov. Tim Walz gave his State of the State address Sunday, highlighting Minnesota’s return to normalcy after a dark year enduring the coronavirus pandemic.

Walz delivered the speech from Mankato West High School, where he taught social studies for nearly a decade. The address was originally scheduled for March 21, but the governor pushed it back a week after he was forced into quarantine when he came in contact with a staffer who tested positive for COVID-19.

Unsurprisingly, a large portion of the address focused on Minnesota’s pandemic response. In just over a year, 6,830 Minnesotans have died from COVID-19, and more than half a million have been infected with the virus. At the peak of the pandemic, more than 7,000 people were testing positive for COVID-19 and dozens were dying from the disease each day, according to Minnesota Department of Health statistics.

Minnesota grappled with a stay-at-home order, a statewide mask mandate and constant tweaking of restrictions on schools, social gatherings, bars, restaurants, gyms, sports and more.

But the approval of three COVID-19 vaccines for emergency use has shown a way out.

Over the past few months, Minnesota has administered more than 2.5 million vaccines, and 976,061 people have completed the two-shot vaccine series. The state has worked its way through the initial priority groups of health care workers, long-term care residents and vulnerable populations and is set to open up vaccine appointments to everyone over 16 years old starting Tuesday.

Full video and transcript of Gov. Walz’s State of the State address

The vast majority of Minnesota schools are now holding in-person classes, bars and restaurants are operating at increased capacity and the state’s professional sports teams will soon be welcoming fans back to the stands.

"Whether it’s the morning rush out the door to school, a warm cup of coffee with a friend, or for me, the busy chatter of a high school hallway between classes, we vow never to take them for granted again," Walz said.

What the governor described as a "long, dark winter" in his 2020 address has turned into a "thaw" in 2021. He commended Minnesotans for making sacrifices over the course of the pandemic, but he urged diligence as new virus variants crop up around the state.

"The thaw is here, but in Minnesota we know better than to let our guard down at the first sign of spring," he said.

On the eve of the trial of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer charged with murder in the death of George Floyd, Walz invoked Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and asked Minnesotans to peacefully exercise their First Amendment rights in the days and weeks ahead.

He pointed to some of the police reform legislation passed into law last summer following Floyd’s death that bans the use of neck restraints and imposes the "duty to intercede" on officers when one of their peers uses excessive force.

But Walz urged state lawmakers to do more to address systemic inequality and craft legislation that helps small businesses that struggled during the pandemic and works toward bridging the racial achievement gap in Minnesota schools.

He closed his speech by rallying Minnesotans to come together and push through the end of the COVID-19 crisis.

"The state of our state is strong, Minnesota," Walz said. "This is our goal-line stand. Get vaccinated. We’re coming back."