We must remain vigilant to the risks the COVID-19 pandemic has wrought, but we must also be cognizant of the risks to the long-term health of our economy.
It’s difficult to frame this issue in a way that isn’t interpreted as pitting getting a haircut against grandma’s life. The best way to frame the issue should involve facts and reasonable assessments of risk.
We are on record defending and supporting much of what Gov. Tim Walz and his administration have done to combat COVID-19 in Minnesota. We support the test, trace and isolate strategy Walz has so often emphasized. We’ve expressed disappointment, at times, with the ability of our state, with Mayo Clinic and the University of Minnesota medical center, to get to the right testing level and iron out their “logistical” problems.
Much of that testing problem has been solved and only slightly later than the stated goal.
But new information has started to emerge on the somewhat reduced risks of re-opening the economy. The much-cited University of Washington model that predicts COVID cases and deaths has once again reduced its estimated number of U.S. deaths even as much of the country has re-opened bars and restaurants.
Director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation Dr. Christopher Murray told CNN Monday that he and researchers were surprised at the new model’s findings in light of the re-openings. They were expecting the increase in mobility to boost the death estimates. Now, he surmises, the wearing of masks may be the key to the model’s new lower death estimate.
He said their models showed a surprising lack of correlation between re-opening states and higher rates of infection or death.
Cases in Georgia continue to decline in the three weeks since the state has re-opened bars and restaurants but at lower capacities.
Still, Murray posited that there may be a lag in virus regeneration in re-opened states and we should watch the trends carefully.
We’re not suggesting Minnesota re-open fully at this moment, but we are suggesting the Walz administration must look closely and carefully at the new information and have a robust discussion about the balance Walz has often talked about between public health and economic health.
Minnesota cases seem to be bouncing around at steady levels and deaths have taken short stints declining, but not increasing significantly on a moving average basis. Walz has also stated repeatedly that we have met one of the key goals of his policy: having enough hospital capacity should we see a spike.
The economic environment is getting darker as restaurants and other businesses have begun to announce their permanent closing. That will only increase in the weeks ahead.
The Walz administration must take a really hard look at re-opening the bars, restaurants and hair salons June 1 with robust social distancing in place and a strong educational plan to advise every business how safety can be improved and enhanced going forward.
As Walz himself has noted: prolonged shutdowns are unsustainable to the economy. There’s more evidence that the balance needs to be tipped toward re-opening.