Walz highlights need for business closures, more testing capacity to fight COVID-19

'I do not take this lightly, I understand the impact that it had,' the DFL governor says

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Gov. Tim Walz speaks during a news conference about the COVID-19 outbreak.
Gov. Tim Walz speaks during a news conference about the outbreak of the novel coronavirus in St. Paul on Monday. Walz ordered bars and restaurants across Minnesota to temporarily close to customers who dine in amid fears of coronavirus cases.
Glen Stubbe | Star Tribune via AP

Following a directive by Gov. Tim Walz on Monday, every bar and restaurant in Minnesota was supposed to close their doors for 10 days starting Tuesday afternoon, in an effort to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus in Minnesota.

The move was criticized by some rural legislators for closing those businesses in small towns where the virus has not been confirmed. Walz told MPR News’ All Things Considered that it wasn't an easy decision, but he believes it is the right one.

"I do not take this lightly, I understand the impact that it had,” Walz told host Tom Crann. “But as I explained to many of those legislators when I went to try to address this, every single health care expert in the state of Minnesota and every epidemiologist in the state and the infectious disease folks at the University of Minnesota and Mayo Clinic and others disagree with their point on that."

Walz said while the virus has not yet spread to many rural areas of the state, it could have a devastating effect on hospitals across Minnesota, especially smaller ones that may not easily deal well with cases of COVID-19.

As cases of COVID-19 continue to increase in Minnesota — 60 confirmed cases as of Tuesday, the state Health Department announced it would be rationing COVID-19 tests for those with serious cases and health care workers among others.

The state has asked that more kits be sent to Minnesota, though demand for kits across the country has also grown. The governor expressed frustration with the lack of testing availability.

"There's growing concern about the lack of testing. And we need to quickly, and I heard today, Dr. [Deborah] Birx on the press conference with the president, say that they would be ramping up to a million by Friday,” Walz said in his interview with MPR News. “Our hope is that they would be distributed to all states, that we have the capacity to do it, too."

As part of the state’s response to COVID-19, Walz signed an emergency funding bill Tuesday afternoon to direct $200 million toward a health care response fund. The money the fund contains can be used to pay staff, set up temporary testing and treatment units, purchase protective gear and make other changes aimed at slowing the spread of the contagious virus.

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