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Minnesota economist: There is only one way to return to normal quickly

Ryan Raiche
Updated: March 24, 2020 06:56 PM
Created: March 24, 2020 06:06 PM

Despite concerns from health officials, there’s a growing call from President Donald Trump to open cities and businesses back up by Easter, even as COVID-19 cases skyrocket. 

The renewed focus on revving back up the economic engine is catching on. Minnesota State Senator Scott Jensen released a statement Tuesday warning against the “unintended consequences” of these extreme measures.

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But VV Chari, an economist at the University of Minnesota and a consultant to the Federal Reserve, cautions what could happen if we jump too soon.

“Getting back into normal economic activity, without adequate testing infrastructure, is just going to lead us into this cycle forever,” Chari said in an interview with 5 INVESTIGATES.

The only feasible way to ease “back to normal” is wide-spread testing on a massive scale, according to Chari.

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In that situation, he said that people testing positive for the virus would head to isolation and people who test negative could head to work, while still practicing social distancing.

“If we do that without a dramatic ramp-up in testing, what’s going to happen on week four or five is a whole bunch of new cases. The pressure to go into a lockdown will be huge. It’ll be enormous. That’s the problem with the ‘lets go back to the way we used to do things’ — no,” Chari added.

On Monday, Tedros Adhanom, director of the World Health Organization, underscored the role testing plays to get out of this crisis.

“To win, we need to attack the virus with aggressive and targeted tactics, testing every suspected case,” Adhanom said.

The problem in Minnesota and beyond is there simply are not enough tests or materials to process them.

On Tuesday, The Minnesota Department of Health reported it only ran 150 tests in the last 24 hours, one of the smallest batches since the outbreak began.

Gov. Tim Walz emphasized on a conference call with reporters Thursday that even if President Trump calls for an early return to normalcy, he will do what’s best for Minnesotans.

“We all understand this is taking a huge economic toll, but this is going to take some time. It's going to be well beyond Easter, and I don't think it does us any good to pretend that it's not,” Walz said.

Doug Loon, president of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, released a statement on Tuesday that “Minnesotans’ health and safety are paramount concerns for all of us,” and that the “balance is essential in how government responds to safeguard public health and protect the economy for the long term.”

Loon had no comment about what role ramped up testing plays in that balance.


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