Duty Only Rings Twice

By November 10, 2020Commentary

Long post, late night, fair amount of ranting, but not as much as you might think.  See Update Below.

Tonight I had the distinct displeasure of listening to not one but two press conferences from our Governor.  In part I will refer to him by his proper titular appellation, because I believe some of his actions were more measured and reasonable than I might have expected.  And in part he will be referred to by his thoroughly well-deserved epidemic epithet, the Incompetent Blowhard, as sometimes abridged to the “IB”.   These back to back press conferences have taxed my syntactical abilities but I will do my best under arduous circumstances to relay to you faithful readers the essence of the proceedings.

Monday’s event occurred in the Minneapolis convention center where a massive saliva testing operation is being set up to generate even more false positive, false negative and low positive cases.  I will mention again that notwithstanding the hundreds or maybe even thousands of contact tracers we have, according to the weekly report, community unknown and completely unknown source of transmission is the single largest fraction of cases, and a very significant fraction.  That fraction is also growing.  So what are we getting for all those contact tracing efforts and why compound the difficulties they are so obviously having by adding more marginal or false results?

The Incompetent Blowhard component of the Governor’s split personality delivered preliminary remarks, well honestly, all of Monday’s remarks.  We are in a “dangerous phase”.  It was “totally predictable” if we didn’t follow the mitigation measures.  It is an “avoidable spread and deaths”.  We have poorly managed the epidemic compared to other nations.  The economy versus health is a false dichotomy and we see examples of that around the world.  The 18-35 year olds are spreading asymptomatically.  It is a “long dark winter”.  He said in the summer if we didn’t get a handle on it we would be here.  “Here where we didn’t want to be, we knew that if we didn’t make the changes we would be.”  (Hope he wasn’t the speech coach.)  We have to “change behavior”.  It is going from 18-35 year olds to the elderly.  We have a data driven, scientific approach.

Now questions, was he going to close down the state?  No, it is a blunt instrument which was right in the spring but not needed now, although was great for the spring.  Surgically looking at 18-35 year olds.  Those who say the Governors shut down to hurt the economy, that is nonsense.  It isn’t true that states that are more open have better economies.  Are bars and restaurants a problem?  Yes, but not demonizing, they can show the percent there.  The infection rate increases in those locations after 10 pm.  I haven’t put out anything that isn’t data driven.  You should all “keep track of what was said and what was promised by everyone involved”; as he whined about supposed federal failures.

One side note, before I attempt to parse the plethora of platitudes.  Watch the Governor’s mask as he speaks, and he is a literal blowhard.  You see exactly why masks may not be as effective as we would like to believe.  Look at the intense exhalation and inhalation cycle that literally deforms the mask.  That signifies high pressure that is pushing and pulling particles through the mask.  And if you think a particle containing a few virus can’t be pulled or pushed through fabric with that kind of pressure, you are likely mistaken.

So, in relative order, not attempting to respond to every statement, we see first the false logic of because cases are rising we must not have adhered to recommended behaviors.  I have dealt with that fallacy before.  Sorry, but I don’t agree that the deaths and cases are avoidable, not by the measures he is using, which likely have increased the total pain.  No, the US has not by most measures done worse than other nations, in fact it has performed better on most measures–more per capita testing for example, lower per capita deaths than many nations (really not bad at all if you take out NY and NJ, which are just complete disasters).   More false logic, repeated later, that you have to suppress the virus to get  the economy going.  The later related statement was a flat out lie, especially for someone who claims to be so data driven.  The more open states have been clearly demonstrated in multiple analyses to have better economic performance through the epidemic.

You can see what was coming for today, Tuesday’s briefing, it is all the fault of 18 to 35 year olds who are spreading it to the elderly.  We heard that reference at least three times.   Sorry, show us the actual data from your thundering herd of contact tracers that shows this is happening.  Our data driven IB again needs to look at his own weekly reports, look at the brown trend line on the cases by age chart over time.  Let me help you understand that line, it represents percent of cases under age 40.  Hmmm, that line appears to have peaked in late June and declined ever since.  I am flabbergasted when he says this stuff, does he think we are all illiterate morons who don’t know how to check on these claims.  Well, since he is responsible for the sorry state of the public schools, maybe he does think that.

As for tracking what he says and promises, I will assure him I do that assiduously.  I seem to recall that he promised us that even with his stay-at-home orders and school and business closures and everything else, 50,000 Minnesotans would die by September, almost all of us would have been infected and the epidemic would essentially be over.  That does not seem to have been the case.  I also recall extremely clearly that the mask mandate would be the single most important measure that would keep cases under control.  They have merely tripled or quadrupled since then.

Tuesday, he announced his response to the surge in cases.  The Governor was pretty restrained in his response and I applaud him for that.  Extreme actions have extreme unintended, but known, consequences.  I would like to say that this restraint was actually based on science, data and a balanced analysis.  I doubt that.  But I appreciate the restraint.  Then the ever-present IB showed up and started with the usual messaging divorced from reality.

We heard again about the surge not being unexpected and the outcome being absolutely predictable since our behaviors have been so bad.  (If it was so predictable, why didn’t you do something to stop it.)  Unmitigated twaddle, see more below.  He is also obviously not a math teacher, since he referred to spread as exponential and it isn’t even close to that.  He showed a slide on daily cases which is totally misleading with no adjustment for testing levels.  There were not low infection rates in the spring, in fact he (see, I did what he asked and tracked what he said) and other officials said we were maybe detecting one in ten infections.

On and on about it is all our fault for not behaving properly and it will continue if we don’t adjust behavior.  Now here was an interesting slide which has information I have been working on compiling.  They showed case growth by region of the state.  What you would note is that the metro area, despite having the densest population, has about the lowest growth.  Think that has anything to do with the metro having a far more severe epidemic in the spring.   “We should have broke the back of this thing months ago.”  You should has learned grammar more better, particularly for a teacher.

He claimed they could project 10 or 20 days out and see exactly where this thing is going.  Wow, that is great, apparently their modeling ability has really improved since the spring and summer, gee, where is that updated model we have been repeatedly promised.  Don’t for one second trust any projection from the state, there is absolutely no reason to believe they have a clue about the direction of the epidemic.

But never fear, we are getting his always balanced approach, in which he balances coronamonomania with hysteria and panic.  In this case balance means saying 18-35 year olds are responsible for case growth and spreading to the elderly, no data or evidence to support that of course (again, go to the weekly report and look at the cases age groups for the last week in October that he used on his slide and you tell me if maybe the over 50s might be showing a little faster, okay, maybe a lot faster growth).  In any event, then we have to target where these irresponsible millennials and Gen whatevers are congregating.

Apparently in one day from the Monday briefing when it was 10 pm, they have now magically determined that infections in bars and restaurants double after 9 pm.  It is simply absurd to suggest that level of ability to determine when transmission occurs.  He said 71% of transmission is at social events and 29% is other sources.  That is also very misleading, because it only represents known transmission, and unfortunately, we don’t know the source of a lot of transmission.  In fact it is a huge lie, because the weekly report says only 28% of cases have a known community source, so that 71% and 29% are really about 19% and 9% of all cases.

So after all that windup, here is the pitch.  Nothing specific to the supposedly naughty age group, but more limits on bars and restaurants, both how they serve and during what hours.  Reductions on the number of people at weddings and funerals, to 50 on November 27 and 25 on December 11, which shows you just how long he plans to keep these new orders in place.

But here is the real outrageous capper–he is telling people that in their private gatherings in their own homes, indoors or outdoors, they cannot have more than ten people and three households.  Aside from being completely unconstitutional, this is an intrusion into private life that is unconscionable.  And just in time for Thanksgiving and Christmas.  This is going to be real popular and widely disobeyed.  What the hell kind of dictatorship do we live in?

But it does raise some very humorous possibilities.  If you have a really large family, and some of our minorities in Minnesota are known for that, which child or parent gets excluded?  Even in extended families, what criterion decide who is in or out.  You are a couple, you have three children, each with a spouse and two children.  Spouses stay home, avoids snide in-law jokes?  How about the infants, they just make a lot of noise?  Wait, you are over the household limit, God said to Abraham, give me a son, so pick one.  Excuse my language, what utter bullshit.  Update:  It took my foggy brain overnight, but I finally realized that what we are really supposed to do is exclude the 18 to 35 year olds, since they are apparently causing all the trouble.

Update:  so if you were thinking you are confused about why there was so much emphasis on the 18-35 cohort in light of the new “dialback” measures, you would be reacting appropriately.  The logic is lacking.  If you thought that group is the issue, you literally would tell bars and restaurants they can’t serve them and you would ban them from gatherings.  If you work backwards from the action to what might justify it, you would conclude that they believe there is a lot of spread in bars and restaurants, which I don’t see in the data, but they are an easy target, and there is a lot of spread in private, household social events, which I suspect is true, but I don’t think the limit of ten will make much difference.  As usual, there is the possibility both these measures make it worse.  People spend even more time in their homes, including more group socializing, and home is what the virus loves.  It only takes one of the ten people to be sick and infect people at the gathering, and the five people who were over the limit and stayed home are going to get infected if even one person from their household comes back from the gathering infected.  You are just breaking this up into a larger number of smaller gatherings.  Spread occurs in the home because the level of close contact and the opportunity for virus to be lingering in the air is much higher.  Keeping people out of their houses might be smarter.

Read this carefully.  I am struck that people seem to be accepting the completely undemonstrated notion that somehow Minnesotans’ compliance with the mitigation measures has dramatically changed from the summer, when cases were low, to fall, when they are rising.  I have seen no evidence of that.  Some people have said in response to my repeatedly mentioning this that “well mask wearing isn’t as great in the outstate”, but that isn’t the issue, in fact it completely misunderstands the point and the appropriate analysis; the issue is whether there is some change in the underlying, supposedly causative, factors’ trend.  I see no evidence of that change.  If they weren’t wearing masks as much in the outstate now, they weren’t doing it in the summer either.  No data suggests otherwise.  If they are gathering in large groups in the outstate now, they certainly were doing it in the summer.  By the state’s own data, it can’t be bars and restaurants, because the percent of cases from known outbreaks, which is where that bar and restaurant data is, has declined.

And on the other hand people seem to be ignoring the very obvious factor which should be the default hypothesis.  Prior coronaviruses were called seasonal for a reason, they had a very clear and dramatic seasonal pattern, which this one appears to be following.  I believe the change in several meteorological factors both creates an environment more hospitable to the virus and may be associated with changes in human biochemistry that weaken immune defenses, although I view the latter as less certainly proved than the former.  The seasonal pattern cannot be denied, and apparently, isn’t affected by human mitigation measures.
This is why I get incensed with the ongoing attempt to scapegoat Minnesotans’ for behavior change that has not occurred.  Other factors relevant to spread undeniably have changed, and inexorably unless someone has figured out how to make the seasons disappear.  Why attribute the rise in cases to one and not the other more obvious cause?
And once again, I strongly, strongly protest the unconstitutional and dictatorial manner in which these actions have been taken for over 8 months.  It is completely indefensible, there is no reason, other than a desire by the IB to ignore other views and perspectives, for him to govern in this manner for this length of time.  This is disgrace to a supposed democracy.

Join the discussion 18 Comments

  • Rob says:

    Centuries of cold-and-flu season and suddenly public officials now have the hubris and audacity to think they can stop it. Even more frightening is the number of people who buy into it. Decades of research and statistics about how respiratory viruses spread and behave – patterns CV19 is following – but we’re ignoring almost all of it because of some strange combination of fear and arrogance.

  • WarDov says:

    “And once again, I strongly, strongly protest the unconstitutional and dictatorial manner in which these actions have been taken for over 8 months. It is completely indefensible, there is no reason, other than a desire by the IB to ignore other views and perspectives, for him to govern in this manner for this length of time. This is disgrace to a supposed democracy.”
    I agree but it begs the question, now what?

  • Matt R says:

    I’m more cynical than most, but I think they state actually does know where the epidemic is headed over the next few weeks: a dramatic reduction in hospitalizations. Looking at the response capacity dashboard, that might already be starting. My speculation is that the IB is trying to very quickly “Do Something” right as we pass peak, knowing once the new State House is seated he will lose his powers. This is his last chance to ‘chalk up a win’ for his 2022 election campaign: he will point back to November/December 2020 fall off in the disease severity (which was already starting when he put these actions into place) and claim it was the result of his brilliant and decisive leadership!

  • Chuck says:

    Thank you for this post Kevin! I often feel as though I’m the one heading the wrong way down the freeway. So many people agree with the Gov and live in fear. Thank you for writing the things I have been thinking all along! Thank you!!!!!!!

  • James Alt says:

    Amen!

  • Ricard says:

    Pardon me, but weren’t bars and restaurants already under IB ‘social distancing’ restrictions as to how many people could be allowed in? If so, how is decreasing the hours supposed to provide a benefit?

  • dirtyjobsguy says:

    It seems that you can use indirect proxies for mask usage to prove how great they are but not to show they don’t have much benefit. This is a lack of imagination on the part of almost all of our political leaders. They are terrified that without a set of simple to understand tools (restaurant restrictions, masks etc.) they cannot be seen as the great leaders they imagine themselves to be. However, they could do this with practical means such as helping nursing homes and hospitals manage shortages etc, relax regulations that hamper creative accomodations and most of all help spread calm and hope.

  • researching says:

    Rumblings on the interwebs that a ramped up contract tracing system will be implemented soon?

    https://twitter.com/nathanmhansen/status/1326585270687457280
    https://mape.org/COVID19redeploymentFAQ

    “PUBLISH DATE
    November 10, 2020
    The Dept. of Health’s State Emergency Operations Center urgently needs contact tracing and administrative assistance related to the recent surge in COVID cases in Minnesota. State agencies have been asked to provide the redeployment center with 400-500 employee names by the end of the day on Thursday, Nov. 12. Your name may be submitted by your agency because of skills you may have that can help the Dept. of Health….

    When would I get redeployed?
    Employees will not be immediately redeployed, and all employees will not be redeployed at the same time. It is likely that redeployment will be staggered, but we do not yet have information when redeployment may start….

    If I am redeployed will I be allowed to telework?
    Yes, all the redeployment positions are telework positions….”

  • Daniel Clarke Smith says:

    I had the same reaction to Walz’s mask. It was so tight across his face I could see his lips and nose. I couldn’t imagine it being very effective for filtration. And it did move in and out like a bellows while he was delivering his harangue. I see that NY State is getting set to impose sanctions on bars and restaurants. Apparently its young people are as naughty as ours. The sanctions look surprisingly similar to ours. Great minds think alike, I suppose.

  • Aron says:

    Your website continues to be my “go-to” for reasoned commentary and current research on the Coronavirus. Thank-you for your time and effort in providing this information!

  • Holly T says:

    You have sinned and you must be punished. Only the mask wearers will be spared the wrath of the virus.

  • Chris M says:

    Just got word my 93 year old mother who is in memory care at a LTC facility tested positive for Covid. I have not seen her in months because of their restrictions. It is not a huge facility but have required masks for all health care workers and those living there. This week there are 15 new covid positive patients and 6 new covid positive health care staff. All are asymptomatic. Is this how the covid deaths of the elderly are increasing? They die of something else but since they tested positive of covid, even though asymptomatic, are now covid deaths. I did ask how she could have gotten this, and since I haven’t seen her, they stated probably a health care worker, even with all their mask, etc requirements. I personally believe it could be a false positive, but they will not test her again for two weeks. And this is in Minnesota.

  • researching says:

    RE: “The Governor was pretty restrained in his response and I applaud him for that.”

    As tried to say in a filtered comment, no, it looks like there is something else being planned.

    See the MAPE (a labor union, “Minnesota Association of Professional Employees”) website “COVID19redeploymentFAQ”.

    “COVID-19 redeployment FAQ
    400-500 employees may be asked to redeploy
    PUBLISH DATE
    November 10, 2020

    The Dept. of Health’s State Emergency Operations Center urgently needs contact tracing and administrative assistance related to the recent surge in COVID cases in Minnesota. State agencies have been asked to provide the redeployment center with 400-500 employee names by the end of the day on Thursday, Nov. 12….

    When would I get redeployed?
    Employees will not be immediately redeployed, and all employees will not be redeployed at the same time. It is likely that redeployment will be staggered, but we do not yet have information when redeployment may start….

    If I am redeployed will I be allowed to telework?
    Yes, all the redeployment positions are telework positions….”

    Also, @nathanmhansen twitter account has a tweet saying:
    “They are suppressing tweets of mine with a screen shot of leaked emails. Please check my timeline and check it out. MNDOT employees are being converted to contact tracers MNDOT Budget will pay overtime. 130 new Minnesota contact tracers next week! National Guard involved.”

  • Kevin Roche says:

    That is really interesting, it would explain the large numbers of LTC deaths.

  • Kevin Roche says:

    I am not sure all this contact tracing is getting us anywhere

  • Joe Doakes says:

    It’s fascinating to learn that Covid is a variable-deadliness virus: some days, you can’t gather more than 10 people or they’ll catch it and die (Deadly Days); other days, you can gather 25 or even 50 people with no problem (Safe Days). Amazing! What other virus acts that way?

    If they know three weeks in advance which days are Deadly Days and which days are Safe Days, could I get a copy of the schedule? I’m interested in Christmas, New Year’s and possibly Martin Luther King Day. I need to know how many people I can safely gather so I can adjust the invitation list.

  • Kevin Roche says:

    That is truly funny, I wish I had thought of it. What about the days when you can have mass political rallies or riots?

  • Marian C. says:

    I think all the mid-west governors are reading from the same script. Our very own Mike DeWine, R-OH, read us the same riot act about our bad behavior. Why can’t we all just wear our masks? Every where I go, people are. And they stand 6 feet apart. And squirt their hands and shopping carts with hand sanitizer. And we’ve been doing the same thing for months. First we were told we could flatten the curve if we did it for two weeks. Then for 4 to 6 weeks. Then for the summer. Now it’s all about testing and contact tracing. And now we’re horrible and the curve is not a curve, it’s out of control. Really?!

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