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Coronavirus: What is Scenario 3 and why isn't Minnesota ready for it yet?

Gov. Tim Walz said reaching Scenario 3 is the aim, but the state isn't ready yet.

The debate over Minnesota's coronavirus models continued on Friday as Gov. Tim Walz was asked about the direction his administration is taking in response to the pandemic.

This past week has seen some senior Republicans, among them House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, to call on Walz to end the state's peacetime emergency and follow the path set out in the Department of Health and University of Minnesota model known as "Scenario 3."

The GOP attempt to end the peacetime emergency failed in the House, but there nonetheless remain calls for Walz to shift the state's response to allow more sectors of the Minnesota economy to resume.

Their argument is that there is no discernible difference in terms of projected deaths between Scenario 3 and Scenario 4, which Minnesota is currently following, albeit the latter pushes back the timeline for peak hospital demand for 5 weeks.

Here's a look at the two models presented by MDH and U of M officials on Apr. 10 (note – death estimate is for entire course of COVID-19, including possible 2nd and 3rd waves, and is subject to ongoing revision).

Scenario 3: Stay-at-Home order ends immediately, allowing more non-essential businesses to return to work, followed by long-term Stay-at-Home order for most vulnerable residents – 11 weeks till peak hospital and ICU demand, 22,000 deaths (with range of 9,000 to 36,000).

Scenario 4: Stay-at-Home order continues till early May, followed by long-term Stay-at-Home order for most vulnerable – 16 weeks will peak hospital and ICU demand, 22,000 deaths (with range of 9,000 to 36,000).

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Why does Gov. Walz say we're not at Scenario 3 yet?

At his Friday press conference, Walz said it's too far away to make a decision on whether to extend the Stay-at-Home order, but it's nonetheless a possibility given that Wisconsin recently extended its shelter order till late May, albeit it has more cases and deaths than Minnesota.

And he says Republican leaders are "not wrong" about Scenario 3, saying it is indeed "the only sustainable goal" for Minnesota and one his administration is aspiring to, but the state is not just at the point to do it yet.

That's because, in his words, Scenario 3 "is predicated on ample amounts of PPE (personal protective equipment) and surge capacity, and testing."

"Scenario 3 sets us up to be able to test, trace and isolate" to the point Minnesota can more safely reopen increasing sectors of business.

While there have been positive signs that testing is getting to the point Minnesota needs to open up, with the Mayo Clinic and M Health Fairview announcing broad capacity this week, there was also bad news on Friday in the form of a record number of single-day deaths in Minnesota, as well as the news of an outbreak at the JBS pork plant in Worthington.

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Walz thinks that Minnesota is getting closer to Scenario 3 with every passing week, but even when we reach the point that non-essential businesses can reopen, it's not going to be back to "business as usual," as they'll be expected to implement the same social distancing practices that essential businesses have.

"We do believe Scenario 3 is the place we need to go, when we started opening and thinking about how do we source the PPE, how do we ramp up the testing to get there, that's what we were thinking. The time that we put that out there and the time we extended the stay at home order we did not have that.

"The only sustainable place is looking like Scenario 3 in that modeling ... sheltering place till a vaccine comes is not sustainable," he added. 

"We had to figure out a way to first understand – and we have learned so much over the past month about this virus – is to be able to first and foremost identify who has it, to isolate, trace, to get them and the most vulnerable protected." 

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