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Minnesota Gov. Walz: Trump call went well; reopening pork plant is priority



File - Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Gov. Tim Walz agreed Monday with President Donald Trump’s assertion that they had a “very nice call” about the state’s response to COVID-19, and the governor also said the state is working to help JBS USA safely reopen a big pork processing plant in Worthington that has been hit hard by the disease.

The Democratic governor tried calling the Republican president on Friday, but couldn’t get through at the time to Trump or Vice President Mike Pence. Walz placed that call after Trump tweeted “LIBERATE MINNESOTA!” in support of a protest outside the governor’s residence in St. Paul against Minnesota’s stay-at-home order, which is meant to slow the spread of COVID-19. It was one of three “LIBERATE” tweets that Trump directed that morning against states with Democratic governors; the others were Michigan and Virginia.

The president’s tone was different in a tweet Monday morning: “Received a very nice call from @GovTimWalz of Minnesota. We are working closely on getting him all he needs, and fast. Good things happening!”

Walz said at his daily briefing for reporters Monday afternoon that it was actually Trump who called and that they spoke Saturday night. The governor said he had called Trump because he was “just a little confused” about what the president thought Minnesota should be doing differently to restart its economy. He said they ended up having a “very good” conversation for close to 10 minutes about personal protective equipment and coronavirus testing.

While Walz has expressed frustration with the state’s difficulties with the federal government in securing personal protective equipment and testing supplies, he’s been measured in his public criticism of Trump.

“I am not interested in adjudicating why we don’t have these things now — I’m just interested in how we get them,” Walz said. “And that’s what I expressed to the president again. I think he echoed that and expressed great desire to continue to work with us. … Minnesotans and Americans in general, they don’t need to see us fight.”

Waz said getting the JBS plant in Worthington running again is a high priority. It employs more than 2,000 people and normally slaughters 20,000 hogs per day. JBS, which just granted raises of $4 an hour for its meatpacking workers across the country, will continue to pay workers during the indefinite closure.

Sixteen more people have tested positive for the coronavirus in Nobles County, which includes Worthington, the Minnesota Department of Health reported Monday. Those cases raised the southwestern county’s total to 76 and were among the 114 new cases reported statewide, which raised Minnesota’s total to 2,470. The department also reported nine new deaths to raise the state’s total to 143. As of Monday, 237 residents were hospitalized with the disease, up nine from Sunday, including 126 in intensive care, up 10 from Sunday, while 1,202 people have recovered and no longer need isolation.

Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said at the briefing that her investigators were still interviewing confirmed patients in Nobles County but that 33 JBS employees and six family members of employees had tested positive as of Saturday. She said she didn’t have results back yet from Sunday’s interviews. Everybody at the plant has been offered testing, she said.

Malcolm said there have been “some real challenges” in completing the case investigations because over 40 languages are spoken at the plant, some workers live in crowded conditions and some don’t have phones.

Agriculture Commissioner Thom Petersen said Minnesota has around 20 other large packing companies. He said it’s “incredibly important” to keep those plants running.

“We want to make sure that we ensure that Minnesotans have a safe, affordable and accessible food supply,” Petersen said.

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