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Walz readying 'more surgical' mitigation strategies as COVID-19 surges

It's unclear if bars and restaurants will face further restrictions.

Tuesday could be another big day for Minnesotans as Gov. Tim Walz is expected to announce new measures aimed at slowing what has become a rapidly escalating COVID-19 crisis in the state and entire Upper Midwest. 

Speaking Monday from a new saliva testing site at the Minneapolis Convention Center, Walz hinted at a "more targeted" and "more surgical" approach compared to the all-encompassing lockdowns that sent the state's economy into a spiral in March. 

What exactly Walz is planning to say is unclear, but he said he was going to meet with legislators Monday to discuss "what we do and how we turn that dial to have the maximum health effect" while minimizing the economic impact. 

Walz did hint at the possible launch of a system that can track cellphone data to notify anyone who unknowingly had an exposure to someone who wound up testing positive for COVID-19 a mobile alert.

He has previously suggested he's not keen on a return to the level of lockdown seen earlier in the year, when restaurants and bars were among the businesses required to close for three months.

Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said the virus is spreading all over the state, and it's not just superspreader events linked to weddings, funerals and other large gatherings. 

"It's not just one or two or three big events. It is thousands of events happening all over the state all the time," said Malcolm. "Gathering in numbers is riskier today than it was a month ago, just flat out a fact because of the degree of community spread that is out there." 

"These are huge life milestones and of course everybody wants to celebrate, but large gatherings right now are dangerous," she said.

According to MPR's David Montgomery, it took eight months for Minnesota to confirm via testing 185,000 cases of COVID-19, and the next 185,000 could be found in less than a month. 

"This is exponential growth. We are now seeing the rate of growth that we predicted and feared," said Malcolm. 

Walz and Malcolm said they will reveal data that will provide clarity for their decisions. 

"If you look at all the sources of spread: workplaces, retail, celebratory events, bars and restaurants, that is a very large category of cases," explained Malcolm. "Are there patterns there? Are there things – as the governor said – that we can do that are more targeted and more specific in nature?"

"That is definitely something we're going to be talking about more tomorrow," she said. 

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Walz defended past actions to shut down indoor dining at bars and restaurants, saying "we are not scapegoating the hospitality industry." 

"We are not demonizing, nor should anyone, this environment," he said. "It's just a riskier environment. But in fall fairness, you gathering with 3 or 4 families in your backyard – or worse yet in your garage for a celebration – would have an equally detrimental affect. And we'll have to target those too. I think you'll see tomorrow we're going to try and be much more surgical about this." 

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