Shutdown Blues [Updated]

Today the latest shutdown order by Governor Tim Walz took effect in Minnesota. COVID cases have been rising across the Upper Midwest, so our “emergency” continues. This time, the shutdown applies to restaurants, bars, gyms and youth sports.

Of course, that COVID cases are rising is no mystery, even apart from the fact that vastly expanded testing naturally generates more cases. COVID is a seasonal flu bug. When it declined during the Summer in Northern states, it wasn’t because shutdowns and mask mandates were working. It was because the weather got hot. It was entirely predictable that the disease, like any seasonal flu, would come back strongly when the weather got colder, and it has. Minnesota’s current shutdown is to last 30 days, but it almost certain to stay in effect well beyond next month, likely until a combination of warm weather and a vaccine brings about a steep reduction in COVID infections.

The current shutdown has several noteworthy features. First is the fact that it does not apply to retail establishments. Last Spring, Governor Walz decreed that small businesses must close down while big businesses (Target, Costco, Walmart, Home Depot, Total Wine) remained open. As a result, thousands of small businesses were devastated, and many went bankrupt. The Walz administration has now stated that retail establishments are not a source of COVID spread. So, sorry about that, small businesspeople. And one wonders: what was the scientific basis for the retail shutdown last Spring? Obviously, there wasn’t one.

Second, there is no significant empirical basis for the current restaurant and bar shutdown, either. My colleague John Phelan points out that the Minnesota Department of Health’s own numbers indicate that restaurants and bars account for only 1.7% of the cases diagnosed since June 10.

In fact, these numbers are largely meaningless since the state admits that the source of something like 69% of cases is unknown. But from any perspective, there is no reason to single out restaurants and bars for closure.

The case is even worse with respect to gyms, which have been associated with fewer than 1/2 of 1% of cases. On Wednesday, the founder of LifeTime Fitness, the largest chain of fitness centers in this area, sent an email to members objecting to the contemplated closure of gyms. He pointed out the infinitesimal number of COVID infections that have been traced to gyms, and argued:

Health clubs are NOT the problem, THEY ARE THE SOLUTION to maintaining public health. They are, in fact, the safest environments people may visit as compared with other forms of retail, entertainment, or any other place, at this time.

He also urged LifeTime’s many thousands of members to contact the governor and other officials to protest the gym closure order.

This was the context in which, as Scott noted earlier today, Governor Walz said, “It’s not about numbers. It’s not about data. It’s about neighborliness.” That must be one of the stupidest utterances by any public official in history. But it’s nice to know that data have nothing to do with Minnesota’s draconian shutdown orders.

Third, it is noteworthy that Indian-owned gambling casinos are not being closed down:

I can’t imagine on what basis gambling casinos can be distinguished from bars and restaurants. Well, no, on second thought I can. The Indian tribes are among the largest donors to the DFL party. [See Update below.]

Fourth, high school and youth sports are also being shut down. This actually isn’t surprising, since the schools are pretty much all closed down already, and you can’t play football or basketball via Zoom. But the manner in which America’s youth are being sacrificed, as the least efficient possible method of protecting elderly people in nursing homes, isn’t just a scandal, it is a sin. Once again, this has nothing to do with “science.” See, for example, the recent Swedish study that found “that closing schools does practically nothing to save lives or stop the spread of Covid.” Rather, it has much to do with the political power of the teachers’ unions.

One wonders when citizens will rise up in rebellion against the proto-fascist regimes of self-appointed dictators like Tim Walz, particularly now that they have abandoned any pretense of empirical or scientific support for their arbitrary and capricious infringements on our freedoms.

Is there a silver lining? I suppose it could be worse. We could be like Australia, for instance:

And here I always thought that Australians were freedom-loving people. Evidently not.

UPDATE: My son, who knows a lot about this topic because of his involvement in professional boxing, points out that Indian casinos are on sovereign land over which the State of Minnesota lacks jurisdiction, so that Governor Walz could not have included them in his latest shutdown order. That is an excellent point.

But it is not the end of the story. Minnesota’s government collaborates with the tribes in many ways, and to my knowledge, there have been no reports of any efforts to persuade the tribes to go along with the supposedly life-saving measures that the state’s government has implemented, i.e., shutting down restaurants and bars.

Further, the Walz administration has never been a respecter of jurisdictional boundaries. Thus, it has complained endlessly about the Sturgis, South Dakota, motorcycle rally, and has gone so far as to imply that the Sturgis rally is responsible for the failure of the Walz administration’s anti-COVID measures. If the Sturgis rally, 400 miles from Minnesota, could frustrate the governor’s schemes, so could the Indian casinos, which are located just outside the Twin Cities metro area and are open 365 days a year, not for just a few days like the Sturgis rally. But you will not hear a single word from the governor, urging Minnesotans to stay away from these popular, non-compliant venues, located just a few miles away. I don’t think that fact is coincidental.

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