‘Tell the people you love that you love them’: an interview with Lt. Governor Peggy Flanagan

The MSR spent a few minutes with Minnesota Lt. Governor Peggy Flanagan who spoke with an obviously heavy heart as she just lost her brother to COVID-19 last Saturday. Flanagan, who is Native, answered questions pertaining to the state’s stay-at-home order in response to COVID-19, and its effects on communities of color, as well as the broader community.

Related Story: Minnesota lawmakers impacted by the coronavirus

MSR: What is COVID-19’s impact on the Native Community?

Lt. Gov. Flanagan: The federal government has never quite lived up to their trust responsibilities as well as their need to provide healthcare and education for Native people. The response by the federal government through the first packet of legislation that was passed was pretty lacking in regard to Indian Health Service. Hoping the second round does better but it will not likely meet the total need.

[I am] conducting daily calls with tribal leaders across the state, with federal partners through Congresswoman Betty McCollum’s office and Senator Tina Smith throughout the state, and making sure they are aligning the state, the feds, and the tribes in how we are going to respond.

[There is a] proposal from the governor’s office to provide additional financial support through a tribal assistance grant fund that will be available to tribes because they have closed their casinos. 

MSR: Will the statistics on COVID-19 be broken down by race?

Lt Governor Flanagan: I have asked our commissioner of Dept of Health to begin disaggregating the database based on race. I think it’s going to be critically important that we have that information, so we know where to target resources both through communications and also for additional support. Data will be made available in the coming days as we respond to this crisis.

Certainly in the Native community and in communities of color, many of our communities have underlying health conditions like health disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and asthma that are risk factors. We want to make sure our communities are hearing the message to stay home as much as possible and not putting themselves at risk and find themselves in a position where they need hospitalization or other additional care.

MSR: Why the lockdown?

Lt Governor Flanagan: The reason the governor ordered the stay-at-home order—through Friday, April 10—is so that we can use these two weeks to plan for what that response will look like. The response from the Trump administration has been disappointing at best. We know that we will have to take charge of what happens here in Minnesota.

The two weeks allows us to plan, to plan with our partners across the state, state hospitals, and health care providers, along with the MN National Guard, to see where we can put up additional health care facilities and intensive care units because there is not enough capacity for what is coming.

It’s not confirmed, but we are looking at places like the River Center as an example of a place where we can set up an additional intensive care unit for people who need medical care.

 We had crushing disparities in this state before this pandemic and this will exacerbate those even more. Our responsibility is to do everything we can in this moment. We are going to make sure we have responses to rebuild communities that are based on the actual needs and are community guided. 

MSR: What should we do during this time?

Lt Governor Flanagan: Our communities have endured tragedy before; we are resilient and we are still here. What is clear to me in this moment is that for many of us, the way we care for one another is by coming together and while it seems counterintuitive, in this moment, the best way we can care for each other is by staying at home. 

Especially as we find many of ourselves and our family members our community members who have underlying health conditions. It is critical that we wash our hands and practice social distancing and remember to continue to reach out to each other.

I lost my brother to COVID last Saturday. He had cancer and had just started treatments and was released and then contracted COVID and was put into ICU. He lived in Tennessee and [was placed in] a medically-induced coma and a ventilator and he couldn’t fight it.

It is incredibly personal to me. He was a marine. He would want us to just get right back to it, doing what we needed to do to make sure people are protected and have the support they need to get through this crisis.

MSR: Any last bit of advice?

Lt Governor Flanagan: The best thing we can do is stay home but also check in with one another—tell the people you love that you love them. We ran out of time with my brother.

We have endured a lot and we will continue to endure; we will come out on the other side because we are resilient.