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Two Cheers for Governor Walz
I haven't been able to find very much time to blog this week. I keep meaning to spend a night on it, and then something comes up in real life.
However, after how hard I have been on Gov. Walz, I really do need to say something about this, even if it's shorter and less well-researched than I would have hoped:
Gov. Walz is talking sense.
On Monday, the governor said this: "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."
He went on to say this: "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."
There's also some hot stuff about the need for major contact tracing and isolation of positive cases.
None of this has ever been clear in any of his official plans until now, at least not in the hours and hours of briefings I've watched. But I'm not going to prosecute him for inconsistency.
The important thing is, on the most important single question facing a Minnesota lawmaker in the last twenty years, Gov. Walz is now answering the question correctly. Walz has embraced a suppress/test/contain strategy, which is what I've been saying he needs to do -- and, indeed, I demanded it in a petition a couple weeks ago. Apparently Gov. Walz thinks we're calling it test/trace/isolate now (Trevor Bedford is doing the same), and I'm fine with that.
This is tremendously hopeful. The way our state's institutions have responded to Gov. Walz's "moon shot" has been even more hopeful.
5,000 tests per day might not sound like much, and, truthfully, it may not be enough in the long run. But we've only done 44,000 tests total in the state of Minnesota in over a month, and our daily capacity (which needs to keep increasing) has stalled out.
South Korea, often held up as a shining exemplar of test/trace/isolate, has a population of 51 million and the capacity to test 15,000 people per day. (They're not even using this full capacity right now, as their epidemic is largely under control.) Their positivity rate is about 2%, indicating that they are testing everyone with even mild symptoms and identifying more or less all cases of covid-19.
In Minnesota, we have only 5.6 million people, so we need fewer tests to match South Korea's testing rates. In fact, on our best days, we are already matching or exceeding South Korea in tests per thousand residents. But our positivity rate for the past week has been hovering around 9 or 10% (source: MDH statistics loaded into a spreadsheet on my computer), indicating that our epidemic is starting to get beyond our capacity to test for it. We need more tests because we didn't arrest the epidemic as well as South Korea did. (Relative to many U.S. states, however, we've done a very good job.) But 5,000 tests per day, if we started running them before the stay-at-home order lifts, when cases should (we pray) be at their nadir... that, combined with the aggressive contact tracing the governor is talking about, would give me a lot of confidence in our ability to keep the virus contained while beginning to ease many of the most economically destructive parts of our lockdown.
Two cheers for Governor Walz. He gets a third cheer when he follows through.
Meanwhile, a great many Republican politicians, I am ashamed to say, are opposing the Governor -- not by pressing the Governor to take these sorts of actions, as I have, but by insisting that the Governor end the stay-at-home order prematurely, without testing and other firebreaks in place to prevent a devastating epidemic. Many of these Republicans insist that covid-19 is not as dangerous as we've been told, but they are unwilling to wait for data that would prove their claims. They want the economy open now, heedless (indeed, willfully ignorant) of the steep human toll. They are egged on in this by President Trump himself, whose tweets continue to encourage people to act in a manner harmful to themselves and others. (Fortunately, the official policies of the White House have been much better, and actually largely make sense.)
I, for one, am a committed right-wing voter who is writing down the names of state representatives, state senators, and gubernatorial candidates for whom I will never cast another vote. I simply can't let Jason Lewis near the levers of power again. (Of course, I can't let Tina Smith near them, either, so that's going to be a rough election for me.)
On this issue, Gov. Walz appears to be taking the state in the best direction possible under impossible circumstances. Two cheers for him.