We’re all in this together, aren’t we?
At least in the Upper Midwest, that pandemic rallying cry doesn’t quite hold true. North Dakota, South Dakota and Iowa have not yet joined the 42 other states — including Minnesota — that have mandated stay-at-home policies. (On Tuesday, Gov. Tim Walz extended Minnesota’s order to May 4.)
To their credit, these neighboring states have undertaken many mitigation measures, and their leaders are no doubt just as concerned for their residents as Walz is about Minnesotans. But despite hundreds of coronavirus cases — and, tragically, some deaths — North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem and Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, all Republicans, have rejected the kind of stay-at-home order that Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Dr. Anthony Fauci urges for the entire country.
The three neighboring states have taken several steps, though. According to a 50-state comparison compiled by the National Governors Association, Iowa and the Dakotas have joined every other state in issuing emergency declarations, closing schools and activating the National Guard, among other measures. Iowa and South Dakota have limited gatherings to no more than 10 people, and each of the three states has differing levels of business closures. But none have the kind of stay-at-home order — and message — now in place for most Americans.
When asked at a news conference last week about inconsistencies between states, Walz said, “I do worry about that.”
He should. Thousands of people travel across borders within the region, and the most populous metropolitan areas in the Dakotas are on or near the Minnesota border.
Walz, after all, didn’t issue stay-at-home orders on a county-by-county basis, but statewide. Not having border counties in compliance potentially erodes the efficacy of the order.
In recent statements, the three governors have justified their actions in part by pointing out the rural nature of much of their states. But those same demographic dynamics exist in Minnesota.
Leaders in Des Moines, Pierre and Bismarck should look to St. Paul for what can be accomplished with more consistent mitigation. According to data compiled by the New York Times, Minnesota has the lowest per capita number of coronavirus cases in the country, at 21 per 100,000 residents. By comparison, North Dakota has 33, Iowa has 37 and South Dakota has 45. Although far too few tests are available in each state for a fully accurate accounting, Minnesota’s aggressive actions are proportionally paying off. But there’s still a long way to go, as Walz stressed at a Wednesday news conference, and all could benefit from a consistent mitigation approach.
“What we’re doing in Minnesota has been working well,” Kris Ehresmann, infectious disease director for the Minnesota Department of Health, told an editorial writer. “We’ve got plenty of evidence to show that Minnesotans really are cooperating well, so it’s working for us, and so I think uniformity would be great and it certainly would be easier, particularly for those individuals living on the border. But we feel like we’ve done the right thing for Minnesota.”
Iowa, North Dakota and South Dakota can also do the right thing for Minnesota — and their own residents — by joining that effort.