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New testing plan is big step toward reopening Minnesota

Although it will be a slow process, the plan to bolster COVID-19 testing is an encouraging sign for Minnesota businesses.

MINNEAPOLIS — It’s the question you’ve been asking for weeks.

When will the lights turn back on in the Twin Cities?

The timeline is hard to predict, and it depends on a myriad of factors. However, the major announcement on Wednesday about increased testing capacity may drastically improve the outlook in the coming weeks and months.

RELATED: Gov. Walz, Mayo Clinic, U of M announce coronavirus testing ramp up to 20,000 tests per day

“This is a big deal for all Minnesota businesses,” said Charlie Weaver, the executive director of the Minnesota Business Partnership, which represents CEOs from 100 of Minnesota’s largest companies. “This will provide much more certainty in being able to bring both the workers back, and making sure their customers are safe as well.”

Even as testing ramps up over the next few weeks, you shouldn’t expect it to solve all of the problems.

Dr. Michael Osterholm, the infectious disease director at the University of Minnesota, cautioned at Wednesday’s news conference that we’re in the “very first innings” of the COVID-19 pandemic here.

“This is not going to get over any time soon,” he said, adding that less than 5% of Minnesota’s population has been infected with the virus so far, well short of the 60 to 70% that eventually may wind up with COVID-19.

Rest assured, some form of social distancing will continue at least into the summer. Although it’s unclear what will happen after the Stay at Home order expires on May 4, Gov. Walz said Wednesday that testing will “absolutely” play into future policies related to COVID-19 and social distancing.

Walz also criticized other states, including Texas and Georgia specifically, for signaling a willingness to reopen already.

“I don’t know how they have a site picture on what they have,” Walz said. “Unfortunately, I think we’re gonna learn a lot about that experiment... it’s gonna come at a real cost.”

The Minnesota Business Partnership – whose members include the likes of Target, Mall of America, Caribou Coffee and others – aligns with some of the governor’s thinking and has also advocated a measured approach to re-opening the economy.

“We have to be very careful, very cautious and smart,” Weaver, the executive director, said, “to make sure… that people are safe, and feel comfortable going.”

MORE NEWS: Live updates: V.P. Pence to visit Minnesota

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The state of Minnesota has set up a hotline for general questions about coronavirus at 651-201-3920 or 1-800-657-3903, available 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

There is also a data portal online at mn.gov/covid19.