It is depressing, but I keep listening to the Minnesota Governor’s daily briefings on coronavirus. Friday’s was typical. (Briefing Video) He has his patter down great and portrays this calm, thoughtful leadership. But you have to pay attention and think about what he is saying. Here is the gist of his message, and what the reality is.
The Governor says he is “data driven” in his decisions. The data he seems to be primarily relying on in regard to the epidemic, the modeling which shows (and this is a greatly reduced number from original projections) a very high number of deaths in Minnesota is not credible or reliable and the modelers acknowledged this in a response to legislators’ questions last week. So why is the Governor using it? Meanwhile he ignores all the evidence showing that the virus is a very minimal threat to everyone but a few at-risk groups.
And he did no modeling, no analysis of the economic and other harms that would flow from the shutdown orders and didn’t consider the comparative effects of various other mitigation of spread strategies. How is that being data driven?
The Governor says he is keeping Minnesotans safe and avoiding risk. Well, that isn’t true either. The most at-risk group is the elderly in nursing homes and other group living situations. Since the start of the epidemic it has been known that this is the most at-risk group. Yet here in Minnesota almost all the deaths have occurred in this group. The state is responsible for regulating these facilities and the Governor takes great pride in talking about how his orders are protecting Minnesotans but they clearly aren’t doing the job for this most at-risk group.
And how is what he has done safe for the 500,000 Minnesotans who are out of work because of the extreme shutdown, how is it protecting those people? Even the Governor in Friday’s briefing had to acknowledge the mental health toll the order is taking on the population. We don’t hear about it, but abuse rates are up, suicides are likely up, people are avoiding medical care out of unwarranted fear. In addition to the financial pain of job loss, there are a myriad of other harms that flow from the massive surge in unemployment. That is hardly protecting people.
The Governor keeps talking about the need to prepare medical facilities for this surge of cases which is never going to come, or at least won’t come if he can figure out how to actually protect nursing home residents. He keeps talking about the need for more testing capacity, but that isn’t a barrier to a more targeted response that protects the vulnerable and lets the rest of the population return to normal activities.
And here is one of the Governor’s favorite analogies, which makes no sense as applied to either the epidemic or the response to it. The Governor says what he is doing is like sandbagging before floods come along the Red River valley or the Minnesota River. Last time I checked 500,000 Minnesotans aren’t put out of work from sandbagging against high waters. If we did for potential flooding what the Governor has done in regard to coronavirus, we would tell every Minnesotan to leave their home and go elsewhere, even though the flooding was only occurring in one place. The equivalent of sandbagging or a flood evacuation order in regard to the epidemic would be to protect those who are actually susceptible to the epidemic, i.e., the elderly and certain other groups at high risk, and let the rest of the population go about its business.
The one thing the Governor says which is true is that we can’t sustain what he has currently ordered, although the damage is so deep that it may not be repairable. But we need to immediately move to the more balanced approach that his own models say has the same impact on deaths.
The press generally doesn’t challenge anything the Governor says, doesn’t ask hard questions. And the Governor has yet to bring a single victim of his extreme shutdown to one of these briefings. Let’s have a few unemployed people or small business owners or people who are suffering stress present their viewpoints on how great the shutdown has been for them. So I don’t for one second buy the stage-managed BS that is being ladled out to Minnesotans on a daily basis.