Coronavirus in one state (26)

Yesterday’s daily state briefing on COVID-19 (audio recording below) concluded with a shocking revelation. It was set up by Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm’s opening comments on the 18 new deaths attributed by the authorities to the virus. As usual, Malcolm stated, over half of the new decedents were residents of “long-term care facilities.”

Of the 18 new decedents, Malcolm reported, three were in their 90’s, six were in their 80’s, five were in their 70’s, two were in their 60’s, one in his 60’s, and one age 30 (“with significant underlying conditions,” Malcolm added). The median age of all decedents remains 83.

Tom Hauser of KSTP TV News was afforded the last question that Malcolm took in the briefing. You say “more than half,” Tom asked, how many was it? Malcolm responded that 16 of the 18 new decedents were residents of long-term care facilities.

If 249 of 319 total decedents to date were residents of “long-term care facilities,” Tom wondered, what share of the total decedents either died in nursing homes or otherwise had significant underlying conditions? MDH Infectious Disease Director Kris Ehresmann, also on the call, had the number ready at hand: 99.24 percent.

Tom had yet one more follow-up question. He wondered on behalf of the average Minnesota why the state needed to be shut down to protect this isolated sub-population of those seriously at risk.

Good question! I’ve been pressing it myself in this series and by email to Commissioner Malcolm. Yesterday Malcolm’s response included the assertion that those with significant underlying conditions — she mentioned obesity and diabetes — might not recognize the factors placing themselves at risk. The state had to be shut down for the good of the community.

I reiterate that they had the 99.24 percent number ready at hand, but have somehow kept it close to their vest until quizzed on it yesterday by Tom Hauser. Is that consistent with “the Minnesota way” that Governor Walz is wont to cite?

Let it be noted that Star Tribune Pulitzer Prize-winning health care reporter Jeremy Olson was on the briefing call yesterday. He somehow omits any reference to the substance of Malcolm’s exchange with Hauser in his story this morning on the current data and in his story on Walz’s plan for what comes next. The 99.24 percent number is conspicuous by its absence in either of these characteristically verbose stories. Is this a guy with a nose for news?

Hauser’s exchange with Malcolm begins at about 46:30 of the recording of yesterday’s briefing. Asked about the rationale underlying the statewide shutdown, Malcolm first defers to Ehresmann. Ehresmann responds that the shutdown was warranted to “stand up” our health care system, but our health care system has been devastated by the shutdown. She argues that the shutdown has served the larger good of the community.

Then Malcolm uncorks this addition to Ehresmann’s argument: “The only thing I wanted to add is that we are a little concerned that there are some folks who may not identify themselves as a person at risk, but that that list of conditions that predispose one to a more severe case of the disease includes things like diabetes and like obesity as risk factors. So of course we need to be keeping on driving that message home; it isn’t just compromised immune systems and, you know, preexisting respiratory issues — COPD or asthma or the like, or heart conditions — those things people would probably automatically jump to. That list of conditions that can predispose one to some higher risk is longer than folks might think….” Malcolm did not expressly articulate her concern that those at risk are too stupid to look out for themselves.

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