The latest executive order from Gov. Tim Walz on Wednesday will allow 80,000 to 100,000 Minnesota workers from approximately 20,000 businesses to go back to work beginning April 27, before the current Stay at Home order expires on May 4.
It's what Department of Employment and Economic Development Commissioner Steve Grove called a "limited first step," leaving plenty of questions for the hundreds of thousands of employees who remain out of work because of the new coronavirus crisis.
"It's going to be a long haul. In that long haul, we're going to have to strike that balance to keep people healthy, safe and happy the best we can," said Gov. Walz. "I'm asking you. Stay home when you can. Continue to work from home if that's a possibility for you."
Walz likened the status of the remaining closed parts of the economy to a position on a dial. As seen in the graphic below, the dial for workplace settings has moved up a notch from only allowing critical sectors to stay open to now including office and industrial settings that are not dealing face-to-face with customers.
The less predictable a setting is – like a sporting event where fans are getting up at random times for concessions and trips to the restroom – the longer it's going to be before they'll be deemed safe to reopen.
When the dial moves will be predicated on answering the three key questions: How does reopening affect public health, social distancing and societal wellbeing.
While the goal is to move the dial forward and loosen restrictions, it's entirely possible that the dial moves back and restrictions are tightened. That could be the case, for example, if the coronavirus has a resurgence in the fall while the influenza season ramps up. That could lead to more demand at hospitals, forcing Walz's hand to tighten the reins.
Walz said simply flicking the switch and reopening every business at once would be too dangerous.
"No matter how much you wish that would be a good thing, we know the virus would skyrocket and we would lose the lives that we have so far protected," he said.
In the meantime, all companies should continue to follow these recommended practices: telework when possible; wear face masks in public; temperature checks and health screenings (questions) before entering a workplace businesses; maintain social distancing; no large gatherings.
The optimism for Minnesota's economy comes on a day when the state's COVID-19 testing capacity ramped up to a single-day high of more than 2,200 tests, which yielded a single-day high of 221 confirmed cases. There were also 21 new deaths reported Thursday, the highest one-day total yet.
Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said Minnesotans "should be prepared for numbers to grow" as testing increases. The state has a goal of producing 20,000 tests a day within the next 2-4 weeks, thus allowing everyone with COVID-19 symptoms to get a test.
"You're going to see 200 new confirmed cases go to potentially a 1,000 or more once this starts to go," said Walz. "The question is how many end up in the hospital and if the care is there for them."
"The hardest days are ahead. The climb is still up. We are not near that peak yet," he added. "I cannot have a single person who needs an ICU bed or god forbid a ventilator not get that. Those are hard fights regardless, so we have to make sure that that's there."