Walz Making The Right Moves To Keep Us Safe

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By Reed Anfinson
Swift County Monitor-News

No one needs to tell us about the financial impact and pain caused by the shutdown of businesses in Minnesota in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus and the deadly COVID-19 respiratory disease it causes.

We see in it in the steep decline in our advertising revenue; we see in the need to lay off employees and cut the hours of others; we see it in the anxiety of the workers who continue to do their jobs to provide you news each week; we see it in the need to apply to the federal government for help in covering our payroll costs in the coming months; we see it in the need to ask our bankers if we can pay interest only on our mortgages; we feel it in the extended hours we are now working;  and we experience it in the sleepless nights when we wake up and can’t get back to sleep as we go over the threats to our financial security and try to figure out ways to address those threats.

We feel it in our heart when our grandchildren ask why they can’t come to visit as we Facetime them on our computers. We feel it in the emptiness of our main streets and the missing social energy of community gatherings.

These experiences give us standing when we say we support Democratic Gov. Tim Walz’s order for social distancing as we do our best to keep our emergency rooms and rural hospitals from being overwhelmed with patients suffering severe respiratory complications due to the virus.
Without the social distancing and stay-at-home mandate currently in place, we could see 40,000 to 50,000 deaths due to the coronavirus in Minnesota by the end of February next year. Even with the current measures, we are likely to see deaths from the coronavirus of between 9,000 on the low end and 32,000 on the high end. As of Sunday, Minnesota has seen 70 COVID-19 deaths with 1,650 confirmed cases.

Walz has had good bipartisan support through the first weeks of his stay-at-home order. But as the impact on the state’s economy deepens, with businesses closed, unemployment numbers surging, food banks running out of food, the pain of the shutdown is digging deeper into our lives.

As he announced the extension of the state’s stay-at-home order until May 4 last week, Walz said: “I want people back to work as bad as anyone,” but his decisions must be guided by expert medical advice. “I’m tired of this. I’m frustrated by this. My heart breaks for the people who are worried about their economic well-being. But you can’t get frustrated, go on a hunch and throw caution to the wind and pretend that our neighbors’ lives are somehow disposable.”

As the burdens of fighting the coronavirus grow, we are seeing some divisions within state government for the measures that keep us safe.

“I do not approve of the governor’s unilateral decision to continue the order to shelter at home until May 4. We have to get on with our lives,” Republican Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka said as Walz was announcing the extension. He further has questioned the figures behind the need for a longer shut down of Minnesota businesses.

So far, the surge of COVID-19 cases in the state have been below projections - a fact Walz and medical experts say is due to the measures that have been in place over the past weeks. However, also one that others use to argue Walz is overreacting.

“It is past time to allow reopening of businesses that are clearly Covid-safe,” Sen. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka staid in a Tweet. “Many should have never been closed in the first place. Tragically some of those are gone for good. Unnecessary collateral damage in the Covid War.” The chorus to restart the economy is going to get louder as the temperatures warm and people spend more time outside.

To bring back the vibrant rhythm of business and social activities in our communities, medical experts are in agreement that there are three essential conditions required:

Stay-at-home policies can greatly reduce the spread of the highly contagious coronavirus; we have to stick with them. Minnesota has done a very good job with its policy first implemented from March 27 to April 1o, then extended to May 4. Our efforts, however, are eroded by the lax policies of neighboring states. A national stay-at-home order would serve the health and safety of Americans to a greater degree.

Secondly, we must have broad testing with results available immediately. Shortages of swabs, reagents for running tests, and the test kits themselves have held back broad deployment of testing. Right now, unless you are a healthcare worker, or seriously ill and suspected of having the virus, it is difficult to get tested. Despite what President Trump has said, for the vast majority of Americans tests are not available.

 Testing is ramping up, but at today’s numbers it would take a year to get the whole population of the U.S. tested. And, of course, a person who tested negative today might need to be tested again and again in the coming months. We also need broad availability of testing that can determine whether or not someone has had the disease.

Finally, contacting tracing will also be critical so that we know who an infected person has been in close contact with so that they can be tested, and the potential spread of the coronavirus stopped if they are quarantined.

If these efforts are successful, we could see current restrictions begin to ease in June, Dr. Zeke Emanuel, vice provost for global initiatives and director of the Healthcare Transformation Institute at the University of Pennsylvania, told The New Yorker Magazine.

We also have to normalize a couple things that will help slow the spread of the diseases. Wearing masks in public while the virus is spreading through our communities will be required. And, no more shaking hands.

We are at least a year away from a vaccine against the virus. There is no quick fix. This fight is going to take perseverance and broad citizen cooperation – that is the mindset we must be developing.

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