Each death by COVID-19 is tragic. Still, the wisdom of Minnesota's approach to the pandemic can be seen in the state-by-state data in Friday's Star Tribune. Minnesota ranks near the bottom of number of deaths, 40th among the states and territories with 228 per 100,000.
Mississippi had the worst record among the states with 419 deaths per 100,000. If Minnesota had a similar rate, there would have been nearly 11,000 more deaths here than the 12,800-plus we've had so far. That would be nearly equivalent to losing the entire population of a city like Grand Rapids with its 11,235 residents.
A better state comparison might be neighboring South Dakota, whose governor, like Mississippi's, refused to enact the public health protections of other states and questioned the value of mask-wearing and vaccines. Its death toll is 22nd among the states with 330 per 100,000. If Minnesota had the same death rate, there would've been more than 5,700 additional deaths here, a number roughly equivalent to wiping out populations the size of cities like Glencoe, International Falls or Morris.
We Minnesotans should be grateful to the state leadership provided by Gov. Tim Walz, Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm and others, as well as local authorities, businesses, schools and health care facilities who've made the tough decisions necessary to save lives.
Ken Peterson, St. Paul
Thank you to the Star Tribune for the May 20 graphics and information on the 1 million lives lost to COVID. I'd like to offer another way to think about all those lost souls. One million lives is approximately 1 out of every 332 persons in the nation. The U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis holds up to 73,000. So, if you went to a big event there, and walked around looking at those folks, look them in the eyes, you would understand that at a rate of one lost per 332, around 219 would not walk out alive. Pretty scary. Please get vaccinated and boosted.
Peter Berglund, St. Paul
Our students need ways to get here
Many students at Minneapolis College face intersecting barriers that impede their classroom success. They work more than part time or are parents or caregivers, and they often navigate a bus commute that's unreliable or unreasonably long. Service cuts due to the pandemic, as well as driver shortages, have only exacerbated the problem.
Recent research conducted with Move Minnesota shows that access to reliable public transportation is a critical component of success for Minneapolis College students. Transportation — late and unreliable buses — is one of the top barriers our students face in achieving a degree.
Our college does much to address the challenges our students face. We provide subsidized bus passes, lockers on campus for students experiencing housing instability, a food pantry and a student support and counseling center. Strong public transit service, however, is a key building block for student success that we cannot provide alone. Investment is needed.
Investing in transit will serve the nearly 40% of our students who use public transit to get to campus, and the 29% of students who've reported missing classes due to car troubles. We ask state leaders to make the investment needed to maintain and expand the bus service students across the region rely on. Please consider free or reduced fares for students, as well as investment in rapid transit lines.
Providing students with the opportunity to succeed isn't a matter of politics. Minnesota can empower the students who need it most — by investing in public transit.
Sharon Pierce, Minneapolis
The writer is president of Minneapolis College.
We cannot afford to leave transit out of transportation funding.
If the state only invests in roads and bridges, it will leave out millions of Minnesotans served by transit and the housing, commerce, jobs and economic development it drives. We need a commensurate investment in transit to carry our state into a more equitable, prosperous and environmentally sound future.
Despite its challenges, the Green Line Extension project has already created 7,500 construction and construction-related jobs and generated $134 million for disadvantaged business enterprises. These jobs have filled families' bank accounts in 65 of Minnesota's 87 counties.
Investment along transit also benefits all of Minnesota. More than $9.2 billion in development has happened near existing and planned light rail stations, with more in the pipeline.
This investment, in turn, attracts businesses and talent and generates tax revenue that supports projects and services in every corner of the state.
No other transportation infrastructure generates close to that magnitude of economic development that benefits the entire state than fixed guideway transit like light rail.
If we fail to invest in transit — and light rail specifically — we will miss some of our greatest opportunities to move all of Minnesota forward.
We will also miss out on billions in federal funding. That money will go instead to other regions and cities (Austin, Tex.; Denver; Memphis, Tenn.; Salt Lake City; Seattle; and others) to which we are already losing jobs and talent as they successfully build out modern transit systems.
Transit revitalizes and connects some of the most racially and economically diverse communities in our state — communities who rely on transit for daily needs and who continue to suffer the consequences of past racist transportation and land-use policies.
Transit is an investment in the health of our environment. Cars and trucks are the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in Minnesota. High-quality transit options reduce pollution and congestion.
Minnesota's future relies on a complete transportation system that includes both roads and transit. We urge our leaders in the Legislature to prioritize transit investment to support the long-term vitality of our state and all Minnesotans.
This letter was signed by Marion Greene, Hennepin County Board chair; Jonathan Weinhagen, president and CEO of the Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce; and Tom Dicklich, executive director of the Minnesota Building & Construction Trades Council.
Hands-free law is not enough
The Minnesota hands-free law has proven to be an insufficient measure to combat disasters related to distracted driving. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 3,000 people are killed on U.S. roads each year in crashes caused by distracted driving, and this number is consistently rising. Although many states, including Minnesota, have implemented laws and restrictions into their legislation, these efforts are not as effective as their original intention. For example, following California's 2017 Assembly Bill-1785, which tightened restrictions on phone use while driving, a report from the California Office of Traffic Safety found that cellphone use while driving increased from 3.58% in 2017 to 4.52% in 2018.
Throughout my research on this topic, I failed to come across any realistic legislation changes that would have a significant impact on the issue at hand. Instead, there needs to be an increase in education on the illegality and dangers of distracted driving. If future drivers learn about why they shouldn't text and drive before they get behind the wheel, they'll be able to develop good habits and normalize the absence of phones while driving. One example of this approach in effect is Congress providing resources to include distracted driving awareness in license exams as part of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law in 2021. Other federal actions could include grants, additions to employment policies and incorporation into school curricula.
This issue affects each and every American, and to effectively ease the problem, we need to prevent it from occurring in future generations before it begins.
Kelly Dayton, Edina