While Minnesotans are hunkered down at home under orders from the governor to slow the spread of COVID-19, political leaders in three neighboring states have stopped short of issuing a similar mandate.
That’s prompted concern over whether state officials in Iowa, South Dakota and North Dakota are doing enough to check the novel coronavirus that has swept the globe and caused infections and deaths to surge in the United States.
“We have more cases per capita than MN, why do we not have a shelter in place order yet? Especially in the larger cities (Fargo/Bismarck/Grand Forks) where most of the cases are and border states that have a lot of cases,” one critic wrote on the North Dakota governor’s Facebook page.
Meanwhile, in Wisconsin, officials tussled Monday over whether to hold their presidential primary on Tuesday. Although a “stay-at-home” order is in effect there, thousands of voters were expected to leave their homes Tuesday and head to the polls.
After initially resisting the idea of postponing the election, Democratic Gov. Tony Evers on Monday issued an executive order delaying in-person voting until June 9. Republican legislative leaders insisted that the primary proceed, later winning a Supreme Court appeal to overturn Evers’ order.
As Wisconsin voters waited for word on the primary, leaders in South Dakota, North Dakota and Iowa were fending off criticism that their states were among the relatively few remaining states that had yet to issue the more restrictive “stay-at-home” order that only allows citizens to go out for essential services or exercise at a distance.
Minnesota’s order, which went into effect March 27, is set to expire at week’s end. But Gov. Tim Walz recently said he may extend it to the end of the month. He said he had concerns that three neighboring states haven’t issued a similar order.
That would match the extension of federal social distancing guidelines set by the White House. So far, the Trump administration has resisted issuing a national “stay-at-home” mandate. Three of the four states bordering Minnesota have yet to issue such a directive.
“I do worry about that,” Walz said during a news briefing last week.
Governors in North and South Dakota and Iowa argue that they are taking steps to slow the spread of COVID-19 that fit their states.
“Our team’s decision-making is guided by the realities on the ground in South Dakota, rather than trying to apply a one-size-fits-all approach,” South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem said in a written statement. “South Dakota is not New York City.”
South Dakota has reported 288 confirmed COVID-19 cases and four deaths from the virus.
On Monday, Noem issued a three-week stay-at-home order for residents of Lincoln and Minnehaha counties who are 65 years and older and those with certain chronic conditions. School is now closed across the state for the rest of the year and Noem toughened language in last month’s executive order, making it imperative that residents follow numerous social distancing guidelines to stem the virus’ spread.
In North Dakota, 225 COVID-19 cases had been confirmed as of Monday and four people had died.
North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum emphasized last week that the state will use every tool it has to protect the lives and safety of citizens. But he’ll use each of them when it makes sense, he said.
“We’re fortunate here to be in the Dakotas. We’re at the tail end of this thing … so we’re on different timetables,” he said late last week. Because North Dakota is large and sparsely populated, “people are spread out.”
Nevertheless, Burgum has taken numerous steps to reduce the spread of the coronavirus, including closing schools, bars, gyms, movie theaters and in-dining at restaurants.
On Monday, he ordered those who test positive for COVID-19 to be quarantined for 14 days as well as those who live with them. He suspended visitation at long-term facilities except for end-of-life or compassionate care.
In Iowa on Monday, Gov. Kim Reynolds expanded the number of businesses to be closed, including malls, bingo halls, bowling alleys, zoos, campgrounds and libraries. The list, however, stops short of a statewide “stay-at-home” mandate that Iowa medical groups are advocating. Reynolds said Monday she supports a “targeted and systematic approach.”
She reiterated that she wants Iowans to stay home as much as possible and not gather in groups of more than 10 people.
“I believe most Iowans are being responsible,” she said.
Minnesota’s “stay-at-home” order came after Walz took a succession of similar actions to shut down businesses and public gathering places. The governor said last week his team of experts will review the data and the results of the order.
“If we can make changes we will,” Walz said, adding that it’s vital that Minnesota not jeopardize the gains it has already made.
Staff writer Chris Snowbeck and the Associated Press contributed to this report.