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Its Not an Overreaction, Its an Unwise Reaction

By April 19, 2020Commentary

One of the themes that is emerging among some people is that what governments have over-reacted to the coronavirus epidemic.  We have to start with the assumption that this is a serious public health threat.  It needed to be treated as such.  A smart, thoughtful government response was called for.

That is not we got.  We got a panicked response, based on inadequate and inaccurate information, which should have been recognized as such.  Models were built on this inadequate and inaccurate information and produced extremely large estimates of severe illness and deaths, the media hyped the largest numbers, and we were off over the cliff without even checking to see that the cliff was there.

The state of Minnesota is a prime example.  Based on a model which has since its first iteration already reduced its estimates by half, we completely shut down many businesses, schools and social life.   On the other hand, absolutely no modeling or analyses was done about the economic and non-economic harms of the shutdown orders and no consideration was given to alternatives which caused less severe harms.  That is inexcusable.

The Governor keeps talking about being data driven, but he looked at “data” that has a low credibility on the epidemic spread and he looked at no “data” on the economic and non-economic effects of the order and he did no comparative analysis of the effects of different mitigation strategies.  He just shut it down.

No person under the age of 56 has yet died in Minnesota.  Most of the deaths are coming from nursing homes and similar settings.  For talking so much about trying to keep people safe, the Governor and the state have done an atrocious job of protecting that population which was known to be the most vulnerable.

The Governor has contributed to exaggerating the risks to most Minnesotans, which creates undue anxiety and will make it much harder for people to resume normal behavior, which is critical if the economy has any hope of rebounding.  70% of the economy is driven by consumer spending.  People who are too terrified to go out and resume normal activities aren’t going to bring that spending back.  And having 20% or more of the workforce out of a job won’t bring it back either.

So, I will repeat, it was and continues to be a terrible decision-making process and because the process was so bad, the decisions have been awful too.  And we see the results in our jobless numbers and other trends.  Meanwhile if you want to see an example of good decision-making process and a far smarter approach, look at Sweden.  And notice that over the last few days the per capita death rate between Sweden and the US is beginning to converge.  As that noted Swedish epidemiologist said in the interview I posted, all countries are going to end up in roughly the same place, some are just forcing themselves to deal with the epidemic for longer and have a destroyed economy while they are dealing with it.

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