Minnesota Gov. Walz Says More Testing Is Needed Before Many Businesses Can Reopen

Scott Takushi, Pioneer Press via AP

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz provides an update on the state's response to the coronavirus pandemic during a news conference on Monday.

As Minnesota Gov. Walz weighs his decision on when to let nonessential businesses reopen, he’s facing a lot of pressure from a frustrated workforce, especially from small business owners who are trying to stay afloat during the economic crisis caused by the coronavirus outbreak.

“The frustrations that they have are real. These are businesses that, they may have been in families for generations or they built up,” the Democratic governor says in an interview with Morning Edition.

The state is under a stay-at-home order until at least May 18.

In reopening the economy, he says, businesses will face another challenge: consumer confidence. Walz worries that — even with stay-at-home orders lifted — many consumers will be skittish about reengaging with businesses until they feel safe.

Walz says many businesses should remain closed until the state ramps up its testing capacity. Achieving that goal will help contain the virus’s spread, as well as bolster the public’s confidence, he says.

Interview Highlights

What can you tell businesses about when they’ll be able to fully reopen?

We’re shooting for a goal, very quickly, to be up to 20,000 tests a day in a state of 5.7 million. That ability to test, trace and isolate is going to be a way to get on the other end of this.

But I think asking people for patience is hard. And what we’ve done is we’ve tried to use the public health experts. We’ve used a very deliberate approach and we’ve included businesses. And we’ve been able to roll some of those back in. We’ve been doing, of course, curbside with our retail businesses and a lot of factories.

According to research modeling from Harvard’s Global Health Institute, Minnesota is among the 41 states that are still not doing enough testing to safely reopen. Researchers estimated the state should be closer to a minimum of 14,000 tests daily. How do you tell people that you can start reopening if the testing numbers are just not there yet?

We are now approaching 5,000. Our intention is that we should get close to that number very quickly. … I think you should certainly hold off on those unpredictable settings. I think it’s very difficult to imagine a bar setting or a concert setting.

And what we’ve done is we viewed it as a dial and we were very clear about how we turn that up. … You can’t flip it like a switch and say you’re open if you don’t have testing. And if you do, I think there’s a real chance that, one, the public won’t come back. And two is you need to be prepared for the second wave.

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