Is an end to the Coronavirus shutdown in sight?

On Monday, I wrote about the mounting economic cost of the Coronavirus shutdown. Then, I wrote that 409,574 Minnesotans had filed for unemployment insurance since March 16th. Now that number is up to 451,470, implying an unemployment rate of 17.5%. Then, I estimated that the number of Minnesotans now working was back down to the level of September 1998. Now, it has slipped back a year to the level of October 1997, when Men in Black was in the cinema and Boyz II Men were top of the Billboard Hot 100 with 4 Seasons of Loneliness.

Yesterday, I talked about how that cost, initially borne by workers in the leisure and hospitality and personal services industries for the most part, was spreading to other sectors of the economy: on Monday, Cleveland-Cliffs announced that it will idle its Northshore Mining facilities in Babbitt and Silver Bay until at least mid-August with 470 of the 570 employees being laid off.

All of this will get worse the longer the shutdown continues.

Walz: I want 5,000 tests a day

Fortunately, on Monday Gov. Walz offered a way back. As the Pioneer Press reported:

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz threw down a gauntlet Monday on when the state can restart the economy he shut down last month to gird against the spreading coronavirus pandemic:

5,000 tests per day.

And a robust ability to trace infections and isolate those carrying the virus.

It’s an ambitious standard — one he likened to the quest to put a human on the moon — and it’s not clear how soon it can be achieved.

Ambition need not be a bad thing. And, happily, it might not mean unrealistic. On Tuesday, Forum newspapers reported:

A day after Gov. Tim Walz set 5,000 COVID-19 daily diagnostic tests with ample antibody testing capacity as the benchmark required to reopen the state for business, Mayo Clinic says it is confident it will be able to help fulfill that volume of testing.

“As we open up the testing outside of Mayo Clinic we are prioritizing our colleagues here in the state to have access to that testing,” said Dr. William Morice, chair of the Department of the Department of Laboratory Medicine at Mayo Clinic, in an interview on Tuesday.

We are currently in active discussions with the state government to try to understand how our capacity can help provide the testing needed, as other hospitals are as well.”

Specifically, Morice said, the clinic had the ability to produce 8,000 molecular or diagnostic tests daily, and 10,000 serological tests. “Basically,” he said, “we will be able to provide much of that to the state here going forward.”

This is excellent news for the state. Gov. Walz should take Mayo up on this offer and do what it takes to put their offer into action.

John Phelan is an economist at the Center of the American Experiment.