As both President Donald Trump and challenger Joe Biden prepare to make campaign stops in Minnesota Friday, Gov. Tim Walz urged both campaigns to follow his coronavirus directives banning large or crowded gatherings, where the virus spreads.
Trump’s campaign has announced an event at the Bemidji airport Friday that is open to general admission. Biden’s campaign had yet to announce specifics of their campaign event or events, which appeared likely to take place in northern Minnesota.
While Walz’s identical letter to each campaign noted the current ban on gatherings of generally more than 250 people or 25 percent capacity, whichever is lower, the unstated target is clear to anyone following the national campaigns: Trump.
Unlike Biden, Trump and his campaign have openly defied virus restrictions around the country. On Sunday, for example, he held an indoor rally in Nevada where thousands attended, with few wearing masks, in violation of the state’s ban on gatherings of more than 50 people. A Trump campaign spokesman defended the event under First Amendment grounds.
On Monday evening in St. Paul, Trump’s campaign opened an “Asian-Pacific American field office” in the city’s Hillcrest neighborhood. Officially, the campaign said, “Safety precautions in accordance with state and local guidelines will be strictly observed and encouraged.”
That didn’t happen.
“Come on in!” an event worker encouraged the scores who showed up. “There’s plenty of room in the back.”
There wasn’t. Perhaps 100 people crowded inside the storefront location, including Hmong elders. While most attendees worse masks, keeping anywhere close to 6 feet apart — the minimum recommended by health officials for any period of time longer than a few minutes — was impossible. The event, attended by state GOP Chair Jennifer Carnahan, lasted more than 45 minutes.
It remained unclear Tuesday what, if anything, Walz would try to do to enforce his orders. Since the pandemic began, he’s repeated that voluntary compliance is crucial and his aim is not to prosecute violations. He made no efforts to disperse massive crowds of peaceful daytime demonstrators that gathered around the metro for weeks after the killing of George Floyd in May, and he attended an indoor memorial to Floyd that appeared to violate his own orders.
“Over 1,900 Minnesotans have died from the virus, including more than 200 in the past month,” Walz’s letter concludes. “Please demonstrate that you value Minnesota by protecting the health of our communities. Join us in our efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19, keep our businesses open, and get back to the activities we love.”