ST. PAUL — Minnesota is teaming up with six other states to coordinate reopening the Midwestern economy amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mirroring similar regional multistate coalitions on the East and West coasts, Minnesota's Democratic Gov. Tim Walz is partnering with the governors of Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky to regionally strategize a way to safely reopen parts of the economy after the COVID-19 pandemic shut down businesses and left hundreds of thousands unemployed in the region.
In a Thursday, April 16 news release, the governors said they are working to balance protecting public health with mitigating the economic crisis caused by statewide shutdowns and mass layoffs.
"Here in the Midwest, we are bound by our commitment to our people and the community," the governors said in Thursday's release. "We recognize that our economies are all reliant on each other, and we must work together to safely reopen them so hardworking people can get back to work and businesses can get back on their feet."
The governors said their "number one priority" as they attempt to get the region's economy back on its feet is protecting residents' health and safety. In Minnesota alone, 1,912 residents have tested positive for COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by coronavirus, and 94 have died.
"We will make decisions based on facts, science, and recommendations from experts in health care, business, labor, and education," they said.
The group of governors is composed of both Democrats and Republicans. Minnesota neighbors Iowa, South Dakota and North Dakota are not a part of the partnership.
At a Thursday afternoon press conference, North Dakota's Republican Gov. Doug Burgum said Walz left him a voicemail late Wednesday night asking if he'd want to join, and he has been in talks with Walz's staff since. But he also said he has been in talks with other neighboring Plains states like South Dakota, Iowa, Nebraska and Wyoming about a potential coalition — one that he said would be "more relevant to us" than the states in Minnesota's group.
"The direction of that whole group extends all the way past the Great Lakes," Burgum said. "The curve that's going on in Michigan is very different than the one that's here. (...) In terms of how we think about reopening, the (states) that really matter the most are the ones where you've got borders."
A spokesperson for South Dakota's Republican Gov. Kristi Noem did not directly answer questions about why she didn't join Minnesota's coalition, nor questions about different potential pairings with other neighboring states, like Burgum discussed.
"South Dakota has not closed our economy," spokesperson Ian Fury said via email. "We’ve left it up to South Dakotans to exercise their personal responsibility to keep themselves, their loved ones, and their fellow citizens safe."
Walz's entering into the coalition comes after he extended his statewide stay-at-home order until May 4. Since Walz initially ordered nonessential businesses to temporarily shutter in March, attempting to mitigate the spread of the virus and "flatten the curve," nearly 452,000 Minnesotans have applied for unemployment benefits.
According to the state Department of Employment and Economic Development, approximately 14% of Minnesota's eligible workforce is without work right now, and over 90% of this month's unemployment insurance applicants have never applied for UI before.