More than 400,000 Minnesotans have filed for unemployment since March 16 and there remains little optimism that affected businesses and workers will be able to get back on the job when the current "Stay at Home" order expires May 4.
Testing for COVID-19 remains a major issue, as does the amount of personal protective equipment (PPE) available to the state's healthcare workers as the global supply remains low and the demand extremely high.
It's partly because of the shortage of PPE and testing supplies that Gov. Tim Walz has implemented the Stay at Home order, in order to give the state and health systems more time to cope with the COVID-19 outbreak and limit its spread.
How much testing is necessary before Walz says he could comfortably get Minnesotans back to work? Approximately 40,000 a week, via a mixture of tests between identifying infected COVID-19 carriers and serology antibody tests that can determine if someone has already recovered from the disease.
It's a daunting number considering there have been 38,427 COVID-19 tests in the entire state since the outbreak began, according to the Minnesota Department of Health. Typically, the state's public health lab and independent laboratories combine to test 1,000 to 1,800 samples a day.
"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, adding that more involved contact tracing – finding out places and people an infected person has been or been in contact with – and isolating infected Minnesotans will also be critical.
"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 said.
"To do that testing you need the test kits, you need the reagents (the chemicals needed to test), you need the swabs and you need the PPE, all of which are in short supply across the country," he added.
Will that kind of testing capacity be possible by the time the current "Stay at Home" order ends on May 4? "We're gonna find out," said Walz, calling it a "moonshot" while adding that he's not sure if it's realistic but "it's certainly a goal we need to shoot for."
The governor said state leaders are "working with a lot of partners" and that the public should expect a big push in testing and PPE enhancements in due time, but guaranteeing it by May 4 is "too early to say."
"There's not a debate here about whether we need to get the economy open again, of course we do," Walz said. "The debate and the strategy is, how do you do that in a way that ensures, as this virus continues on for the next 12 months or whatever it takes to get a vaccine, that we are in a place where we can weather these squalls that come in and blow out again.
The Minnesota Department of Health clearly stated last week that the upcoming peak of the outbreak, expected to hit Minnesota sometime between mid-May and mid-July, is likely only the first of multiple peaks during the pandemic.