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Pathway to reopening Minnesota should get clearer this week

Apr 20, 2020 02:11PM ● By Editor
Gov. Tim Walz provides an update on the state's response to COVID-19 during a news conference Friday in St. Paul. His administration has been soliciting advice and crafting protocols for a safe return to workplaces in the weeks ahead.  Photo: Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News

By Brian Baskt of Minnesota Public Radio News - April 20, 2020

More information should emerge this week about necessary safeguards to allow more businesses to reopen while keeping their employees and customers safe once the worst of the coronavirus pandemic passes through.

Gov. Tim Walz’s administration has been soliciting advice and crafting protocols for a safe return to workplaces in the weeks ahead. He planned to start the week with a conference call with state business leaders, whom he’s consulted before making prior announcements about restrictions.

His current stay-at-home order is due to run until May 4 — expiring in two weeks — and he hasn’t decided if a new one will replace it. Walz said Friday he’s carefully watching the COVID-19 trends and balancing it against economic concerns.

“We've done so well and that might be a double-edged sword for us,” Walz said. “I'm just afraid people are ready to bust out and this thing spikes up.”

Minnesota is in the midst of its biggest case spikes. As of Sunday, Minnesota had 2,356 confirmed cases and 134 deaths.

For context, it took more than a month between the state’s first test-confirmed case and No. 1,000. It took only 10 more days to double that, and the case count is moving up rapidly. By the same token, there were double-digit deaths for three consecutive days.

Walz has laid out three key assessments he’ll use to guide his decisions: testing, tracing and isolating. He’s set a goal of conducting 40,000 diagnostic or antibody tests weekly, aggressive contact tracing to determine who infected people have associated with and isolating the sick until they’re no longer contagious.

Tensions remain high between the White House and the nation’s governors over who is responsible for what — from lifting restrictions to boosting testing. Walz and other state leaders were due to participate Monday in another White House-led conference call about strategies for ramping up testing quickly.

Some governors might use the chance to demand answers about inconsistent messaging from the president about what it will take to safely reopen. Last week ended on a bit of a sour note.

On Thursday, President Trump released specific benchmarks states should meet before they reverse their coronavirus restrictions. Not even 24 hours later,Trump was out with all-caps tweets aimed at a few states: “LIBERATE MINNESOTA!” “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!” “LIBERATE VIRGINIA!”

In Minnesota’s case, it coincided with a massive rally outside the governor’s residence.

“This is about making certain that we keep our liberties, including putting food on the table. Time to reopen Minnesota,” Republican U.S. Senate candidate Jason Lewis said as he drove through the rally in his RV, stopping later to take pictures with some in the crowd.

Walz responded that people have a right to voice dissent.

“But I also think when you’re advocating for really reckless behavior, that’s a different thing,” he said.

He told reporters he wasn’t sure why Trump had Minnesota in his sights. Walz hasn’t tangled publicly with the president to the degree of governors in harder-hit states like Illinois and New York.

“I’d like to know what they think we could have differently because again, we’re leading as we were asked. We flattened the curve. We built up our PPE. We kept Minnesotans alive,” Walz said. “And we’re moving people back into the workforce in a safe manner. I would argue we’re doing everything that they’re telling us to do but the difference is I actually have to do it here.”

To read more on this story and related reporting, follow this link to the MPR News website.

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