I now have the unpleasant task of summarizing yesterday’s daily coronavirus briefing, at which our Governor extended the stay-at-home order, with basically no changes. You can watch and draw your own conclusions here. (Video) He of course started with the usual nonsense about the “Minnesota” way and how our actions have saved lives. Again, this is a thinly veiled threat that if you don’t agree with his policies you are un-Minnesotan and want to kill people. We haven’t yet saved a single life, there was never going to be a surge of the size the model he relies upon projected (and whenever we get the new runs, that will become apparent), and he has constantly said before that we were just delaying the spread of infections and deaths. He has begun talking more about supposedly saving lives because he knows people are losing patience with the mis-information and bad policy.
He had his little show and tell slides, including one supposedly showing how his policies have kept us at the low end of cases for states. This slide is misleading because it has no adjustment for things like testing rates, population density and other factors that clearly relate to how the epidemic proceeds in any given state. For some reason we didn’t see a slide that showed how our proportion of cases and deaths in long-term care facilities compared to those in other states, which might be because we are the absolute worst in that regard.
Then he acknowledges, as he really has to at this point, that his actions have caused immense economic and non-economic pain to Minnesotans. And with a straight face he says we are using a “middle way” to balance health concerns and the harm from the shutdown and stay-at-home orders. He says we have to live with the virus until we have a vaccine, but that is also untrue–population immunity is a faster and surer way to end the epidemic.
He uses his (and other politicians’) usual trick of taking credit for solving a problem that didn’t exist. We were never going to overrun health resources, we were never going to have 74,000 deaths. He also presents the usual false choice–his way, or just open things up and terrible events ensue. No one is suggesting that. But there is no question that there is an actual “middle way” available that protects vulnerable groups while allowing most people to go about their business. And what is likely true is that the damage is done from his extreme orders is long-lasting–it will be a long, long time before the economy returns to any kind of normal functioning.
We learned in this briefing that unemployment claims resulting from the orders are up to 584,000. But the Governor is relenting slightly and letting some businesses open up for curbside ordering. What a farce. He claims this will return 30,000 jobs. I am willing to bet that by May 18, when the new order expires, more than 30,000 additional jobs will have been lost. And I want to know how many of the 100,000 jobs that would return when he supposedly opened up manufacturing have actually come back. Why didn’t we see that number?
He again constantly refers to danger and risk, with great exaggeration. He has become the main source of the fear than is widespread in the population, he never says that for most people, really 99% or more, the disease has no symptoms or is mild. He talks about masks being good for social psychology, but they aren’t, they are a message of fear and separation. He talked about polling showing people are afraid, but never acknowledges that he is driving that fear.
He at one point said “every life is valuable”, but it is apparent that the only lives he seems to care about are ones that might be lost to coronavirus. By his actions, it is clear he has no regard for lives being ruined or lost due to the orders. And the complete inability to get the long-term care facility issue under control suggests he isn’t doing such a great job in caring about those lives most at jeopardy from coronavirus. We also get the usual rhetoric that he is following the data and is science-driven and listening to the health experts. The first part definitely isn’t true, because if he were following the data, he would tell people that they are at low risk, and open things up. I believe he continues to hide behind health experts to justify his refusal to change. You get the picture, just more of the slickly presented, but misleading perspectives.
He was asked about the modeling and why we haven’t seen new runs. Now I know the answer is that he doesn’t want us to see what they are showing. Instead of using them as the justification for his actions, he has started referring to them as one data point. He hinted that they will project a lower number of deaths. They would have to if the parameters are updated. In that discussion he says that we need to protect the 5% of people who will get critically ill. There is absolutely no evidence or data or science that supports 5% of cases becoming critical. He is just flailing and grasping at any excuse to keep the orders in place.
Reporters bring up heart-wrenching stories, about people who can’t graduate and can’t have weddings. The Governor has no explanation for why this is necessary. He is relying on his message of fear to drive conformity to the orders. It truly is like living in a dictatorship, with detailed executive orders telling you what you can and can’t do. I keep waiting for the legislature to have the courage to do what it should do and take this out of the Governor’s hands. He clearly has the business community cowed, fearful of reprisals if they tell the truth. And the leaders of large businesses are sitting pretty, they aren’t suffering. The Governor knows that he made a mistake, but is just too proud or stubborn to acknowledge that and change course. So we all pay the price for his fear of losing face.
Here is the true big picture of where we are in Minnesota, and this probably applies to a number of other states. You won’t get this perspective from the Governor.
- Coronavirus is a serious public health concern. But its impact is almost exclusively on the elderly, especially those living in long-term care facilities and those with certain pre-existing conditions. For the general population, the working age population and especially younger people, the risk of serious illness or death is truly miniscule.
- We (really, the State and the Governor) have done a terrible job of protecting that obviously at-risk population in the long-term care facilities.
- We have terrified the population into believing they are at far greater risk than they actually are. In addition to the mental stress caused, this hinders the ability to begin to return to economic functioning.
- We have thrown 584,000 people out of work, with no real sign of a reversal of that trend.
- We are seriously damaging our health care system, with tens of thousands of layoffs and immense loss of revenue that weakens the ability of these institutions to provide care.
- We have deprived our children of the opportunity to get an education and to participate in socially important extracurricular activities.
- We have imposed a variety of harms on the population–suicides, mental illness, drug and alcohol abuse, missed health care, divorces. None, zero, nada modeling, analysis or studies were done of these harms before the orders were issued.
- A more focused mitigation of spread strategy is possible, has been used elsewhere successfully and would impose far, far less economic and non-economic pain on the population.
The only way this changes is if we all make our voices heard.