Coronavirus in one state (71)

“The emergency” continues in Minnesota. So declared Governor Walz by executive order extending his rule by decree for another 30 days yesterday. That would be executive order number 78 for the year. He won’t be yielding control back to his subjects any time soon. Indeed, he is mulling over a statewide mandate to wear masks.

Unfortunately for us, the end of one-man rule requires either self-restraint by the governor or the concurrence of both houses of the Minnesota legislature. Only the Minnesota Senate thinks continued one-man rule is a bad idea at this point.

New deaths attributed to the epidemic have cratered. In the past three days, for example, the authorities have reported four (7/11), three (7/12), and two (7/13) new deaths. Six of the 9 new deaths occurred among residents of long-term care facilities. As I noted over the weekend, the median age of decedents as last reported is 83.6. The number of hospitalizations attributed to the disease would be unnoticeable under normal circumstances. It should be difficult to sustain the panic and to make the case that one-man rule is warranted on these facts.

New cases continue to accumulate, but the new cases are trending younger. The median age is now down to 37.6 — a good thing because the risk of serious health consequences is so much lower for the young.

That’s not quite the way Pulitzer Prize-winning Star Tribune health care reporter Jeremy Olson puts it in his daily reports, such as this one yesterday. Olson writes:

The two deaths reported Monday — both involving people 80 or older — represented the lowest daily total since April 13.

Deaths remain more common among people who are older or have underlying health conditions [translation: they account for some 98 percent of all deaths attributed to the epidemic]. People 70 and older make up only 10% of known cases but 81% of deaths. Only two deaths have been reported among people 29 and younger, even though they make up 35% of the state’s known infections.

State health officials worry that a recent uptick in COVID-19 cases among young adults and teenagers could spread the virus to people at higher risk — which would result in more deaths and hospitalizations.

Olson faithfully conveys the alleged state of mind of “state health officials.” He tacitly supports the reasonableness of their alleged fears. He leaves the reader to figure things out for himself. Drawing on current data, Kevin Roche provides a contrary perspective at Healthy Skeptic in his post “A quick Minnesota update.”

I am filing these reports to track the Minnesota Department of Health press briefings on the epidemic that are now down to three days a week. I have posted the audio of yesterday’s briefing below. Health Commissioner Malcolm drones on about new cases and expected transmission of the disease from the younger crowd to the elderly for five minutes in response to questions beginning at about 13:00 and again at about 26:30. Somewhere in there Malcolm mentions phases and stages and I couldn’t help but think of Willie Nelson.

A reporter asks Malcolm about herd immunity at about 33:30. “That is something that we hear too,” Malcolm responds, “and sort of understand the theoretical appeal of that, but it comes at an awfully high cost in terms of an awful lot of illness, a lot of exposure to very vulnerable populations and ultimately a very real potential of overrunning health care capabilities to provide care to the subset of people who get very serious disease. Willfully looking to accelerate the spread has got some awfully serious consequences in our mind.” Infectious Disease Director Kris Ehresmann comments further.

Ehresmann also discusses the low hospitalization numbers in the context of increasing new cases among the younger demographic cohort at about 37:00. She states that “it’s too soon to assume that hospitalization numbers will continue to stay low.” Indeed, she asserts, “we are likely going to see increases in hospitalizations due to the ripple effect of spread” from the younger crowd to the elderly. “They don’t live and work in a vacuum.”

Relatively speaking, this is one of the more worthwhile briefings. It opens a window onto the state of mind of officials turning the dials of our lives in Minnesota.