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What does testing expansion mean for Minnesota's Stay at Home order?

Social distancing will still be vital to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

While announcing the "breakthrough" in testing capacity that should see coronavirus tests made available for all symptomatic Minnesotans, Gov. Tim Walz cautioned that it doesn't mean an end to "social distancing."

Minnesota's Stay at Home order is due to come to an end on May 4, but Gov. Walz has already hinted at a possible extension, albeit in a modified form.

Widespread testing was listed as one of the requirements for the state to start a gradual reopening for business, and Walz's announcement on Wednesday shows that it's getting closer.

But even so, the full rollout of testing to every corner of the state is expected to take 2-4 weeks, and Walz has warned that the testing expansion will all be for naught if Minnesotans don't keep up with social distancing.

"This is not a pass" to quit social distancing, the governor said on Wednesday, though he did say that the state's collaboration with the Mayo Clinic and University of Minnesota will play a role in the next decision he makes on Stay at Home orders.

He has previously said that any extension to the order would be a modified one, bringing potentially more non-essential businesses back online if they can show they can operate within social distancing guidelines, and he has already modified the current Stay at Home rules to allow golf courses, marinas and docks to open.

But he warned Minnesotans not to expect the same situation as being seen in Georgia, where the governor has announced the opening of spas, bowling alleys, massage parlors, and theaters, which he says are some of the last things he would consider opening at this stage.

"We have done two Stay at Home orders and the idea with the first one was to build supply chains and capacity in our health system, and the second one to build the tools necessary to use lessons learned and open more businesses safely.

Rather than the reopening seen in Georgia, he wants Minnesota's businesses to reopen with full testing available, so the state can monitor possible hotspots, as well as put protective procedures in place to safeguard workers and customers.

"There's two sides to the equation: the retailer and the customer, and if the customer doesn't feel safe it doesn't matter if you're open or not. But if you know Minnesota has more testing, it breathes confidence back in the system sooner."

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He also revealed that there will be an announcement in the coming days regarding Minnesota's lakeside resorts, which have been allowed to open provided no communal areas are operational. Walz said additional guidance for these businesses will be forthcoming this week.

Backing Walz's approach is Dr. Michael Osterholm, the University of Minnesota's Director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, who has become one of the most well-known national commentators on the pandemic.

He has urged Minnesotans to "take this seriously," noting we are "not out of the first innings yet" with the virus, as only a small percentage of the state's residents have been infected.

But he said that "this is as good as response that any state I've seen has been able to do" in handling the virus, adding that" on the hardest days ahead the programs we have now will sustain us and get us through."

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