Re-opening Minnesota's economy during the novel coronavirus pandemic won't happen until widespread testing is available. That's what Gov. Tim Walz made clear Monday, and on Tuesday the country's leading infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, echoed Walz's strategy as the safest way to protect as many lives as possible.
“We have to have something in place that is efficient and that we can rely on, and we’re not there yet,” Fauci told The Associated Press on Tuesday, adding that as soon as mitigation measures are loosened there will be an increase in infections and possibly clusters within workplaces.
Walz wants to see 40,000 tests per week, a combination of diagnostic testing to find active COVID-19 in patients and serology testing that would help identify persons who have had the disease and since recovered. To date, Minnesota's laboratories have combined for a total of 40,000 tests.
"We need to be testing 40,000 a week, or more. We need to be making sure that the testing and the PPE are there. To do so, we need to be testing 5,000 people a day and that needs to happen as soon as possible," said Walz on Monday.
"The plan to re-open is very, very clear: Test, trace, isolate and then open back up, and continue this until we get a vaccine," the governor added.
Fauci told the The Associated Press that re-opening the economy everywhere by May 1 is overly optimistic, while Walz said Monday that being able to jumpstart Minnesota's economy by the time the current Stay at Home order expires on May 4 is probably a "moonshot" due to ongoing testing limitations amid a global shortage in supplies and chemicals required to test.
"To do that testing you need the test kits, you need the reagents (chemicals), you need the swabs and you need the PPE, all of which are in short supply across the country," Walz said.
Re-opening businesses that are under mandatory closure before widespread testing is available could result in the virus rapidly spreading in clusters the way it has at Smithfield Foods in Sioux Falls, health experts say.
According to South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, 238 employees were infected, forcing one of the nation's top pork processing plants to temporarily close on Sunday.
"Until you get that, it's going to be very difficult to open up again because you'll keep getting hotspots. You'll get a situation like Smithfield: open up, get everybody sick and now the whole plant is shut down. Because 60 people were sick, they didn't control it, you got 3,700 people and 5% of the pork production in the country out of commission," said Walz.
"That is not opening the economy. Opening the economy is sustainable."
South Dakota is one of seven states without a stay-at-home or shelter-in-place order.
Walz has said that the Stay at Home order could evolve daily with some industry sectors getting back to work if social distancing measures can be maintained. In fact, an executive action by Walz this week has added numerous jobs to the "critical sectors" list that are allowed to maintain business operations during the shutdown.