Walz Extends Stay At Home, GOP Legislators Pushing Back

Gov. Walz extended his order requiring most Minnesotans to stay at home to May 4th. In response to questions about the information on which the governor is relying, the Minnesota Department of Health released the modeling and the assumptions on April 10.

According to the Star Tribune , Minnesota researchers modeled two scenarios. One extended the statewide stay-at-home order until May 8, and a second kept restrictions in place only for people 60 and older and others at greater risk of severe cases until July 10.

An increasing number of Republican legislators are pushing back. Pointing out that the situation in Minnesota is nowhere near what New York City is facing, Republican Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka and Sen. Scott Jensen (R, Chaska) question the assumptions that are going into the models. Watch Senator Jenson's video remarks from March 27, prior to last week's release.

After the April 10 release of the model, Alpha News also featured a critical analysis of several assumptions,  by Kevin Roche.

closed_businesses_graphic.jpg“It is past time to allow reopening of businesses that are clearly Covid-safe, “ tweeted Sen. Jim Abeler (R, Anoka). “Many should have never been closed in the first place. Tragically some of those are gone for good.”

Republicans in the Senate are questioning why large stores are deemed “essential” and remain open, while smaller local companies must stay closed. Sen. Andrew Mathews (R, Princeton) feels that the “blanket order does not fit our largely rural state.” If a local store works with its employees to operate safely, they should be able to operate. “If we wait for the state to micromanage each industry, many businesses will run out of time.”

While the Governor has not released his exact criteria for relaxing the self-quarantine restrictions, what might they include?

• We need to “bend the curve”. Rather than an increasing trend in the number of new cases, we need to see the trend level off and start to decrease.

Our daily new cases have risen sporadically, including a jump reported April 12. Overall, the increase is slowing. The peak in new cases is expected by mid-April. 

• Our health care system needs to be able to cope without resorting to crisis measures such as emergency hospitals.

At the current pace of the pandemic, we are likely there. On April 11, Minnesota has 2,770 intensive care beds — including 525 that could be converted in 72 hours. The number of ICU beds currently in use is 844 ICU, but only 69 of those patients have COVID-19. Growing slowly, the number of serious COVID-19 patients appears to be within workable limits. The number no longer isolated reached close to 800 at the end of last week.

• Some advocate that we need to put a system in place for mass testing, contact tracing and isolation, so that sick people can be isolated early before they infect others.

While more testing needs to be done, we have a long ways to go to establish absolute testing accuracy, sophisticated tracing and isolation mechanisms that respect medical privacy and personal liberty considerations. The state government appears willing to give first responders the location of known active COVID-19 patients, but that personal information will likely not be released to the general public, nor should it be. (As a contrast, consider whether people with Herpes virus could/should similarly be publicly disclosed.)

If we as a people will not accept the type of authoritarian control that the third bullet suggests, what should be done? We should accept that the health of our economy needs to be accommodated in the steps we take to treat the pandemic.

The Governor should tell the state that by May 4, barring any significant change in the trending of the disease, the restrictions on businesses will be lifted if those businesses put in place measures to keep their workers safe. Employers should make arrangements in their workplaces to maintain social distancing, and plastic shielding in areas of close contact with the general public. For bars and restaurants, procedures that have been effective in China, Singapore, and Korea should be identified. The availability of face masks should be improved, and their use should be strongly encouraged.

Laura Dean, MD, chair of a Department of Ob/Gyn in a medical practice east of the Twin Cities, said “Personally I think we need to incrementally get healthy people back to work starting now, and ramp up some each week—and then significantly open things up in early May. The ‘cure is worse than the problem’ right now and I am seeing the effect of unintended consequences in health care, not to mention on the economy.”

While maintaining a strict quarantine has been shown to more quickly “flatten the curve”, there are negative ramifications. Mental health, addictive behavior, and spousal abuse are all exacerbated by prolonged periods of isolation. Some small and medium-sized business may not be able to recover from months of lost revenue and broken supply chains. There are risks to relaxing the stay-at-home mandate too soon, but some risk may be warranted to get us out into our communities and back to work.