Coronavirus in one state (51)

Pulitzer Prize-winning Star Tribune reporter Jeremy Olson took the Memorial Day weekend off. In place of Jeremy Olson, Rochelle Olson (no relation) gave us limited relief from the campaign of fear that the Star Tribune has waged in lockstep with the governor. The headline over Rochelle Olson’s story Minnesota is geared to spread the panic: “745 new COVID cases, 12 more deaths.” Somewhat less alarming truths creep into the subhead: “Ten of those who died were in long-term care facilities, and all were at older than 60.”

The 12 new deaths attributed to the virus by the authorities yesterday brought the total to 881. Twelve is on the low side for May. This is good news. We reached new daily highs of 32 (May 21) and 33 (May 22) last week. Over the last four days the average daily total of deaths is 18. Rolled out on May 13, the state’s new Minnesota Model projected a vastly higher total of deaths by the end of this month than we will sustain. The lower number is good news; the absurd modeling is the same old news.

In any case, however, deaths in the congregate care setting continue to dominate the data. They account for 718 of the 881 total deaths (i.e., 81.5 percent). That is a stunning number.

The subhead of Olson’s article intimates the age breakdown of the new decedents in the subhead. Age is even more of a factor than it suggests: five were in their 90’s, five were in their 80’s, and two were in their 60’s. I understand Infectious Diseases Division Director Kris Ehresmann to have explained that all deaths among decedents with COVID-19 are attributed to the disease. Given the prevalence of deaths among decedents with serious medical conditions, the fatalities attributed to COVID-19 are necessarily inflated.

Here are the striking final paragraphs of Rochelle Olson’s brief article:

In Minnesota, 881 people have died after getting COVID-19, and at least three-fourths of them had at least one of those seven chronic health conditions, according to the Department of Health. Only a handful of fatalities — eight, as of May 17 — have been confirmed to be free of those conditions.

Most cases of COVID-19 are mild, but as many as 5% require critical care that can mean extended stays in hospital intensive care. People with underlying health conditions are at greater risk of severe disease, including chronic lung disease, uncontrolled asthma, serious heart conditions, immunocompromise, diabetes, liver and chronic kidney disease, and severe obesity.

Getting these unadulterated facts out there in the Star Tribune represents progress in its own way. They are smothered, however, by Rochelle Olson’s companion story: “Minnesota ICU beds in use for COVID-19 patients reach new high.” Subhead: “State health officials anticipated the surge in virus cases after months of social distancing.” Of course, it is the latter of these two articles that is featured on the Star Tribune home page this morning. And Rochelle Olson buries this context in the middle of the article:

Department of Health spokesman Scott Smith said that even with the increase in the use of ICU beds for COVID-19, there is enough capacity to care for patients.

In the Twin Cities metro area, 87% of ICU beds were full Monday. During the influenza season, it’s not unusual to have ICU beds filled to more than 95% capacity, Smith said.

Other regions of the state have lower percentages of occupied ICU beds, he said.

It seems like one step forward, one step back, but I think we’re beginning to get somewhere.

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