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Gov. Walz extended the stay-at-home order to buy us time. Are we using it?

Why did Gov. Walz extend the stay-at-home order?

When, on April 8th, Gov. Walz extended his stay-at-home (SHO) order to May 4th, he did so because it would push the peak of Covid-19 ICU bed usage back to July 13th, buying an extra month to build up ‘surge capacity’ to meet this. Scenario 4 in the SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) Model produced by the University of Minnesota School of Public Health and Department of Health, which Gov. Walz went with in extending the order, gives exactly the same mortality (22,000) and peak ICU bead usage (3,700) as the model’s Scenario 3 which is based on a ‘Long term SHO for most vulnerable’. The only difference between the two scenario’s outcomes – and the only possible reason for choosing one over the other – is the timing of the peak: June 8th in Scenario 3 and July 13th in Scenario 4.

This extra time has come at a vast economic cost to the state of Minnesota. Since April 10th, when the original SHO expired, 150,669 Minnesotans have applied for Unemployment Insurance. To begin to make that sacrifice worthwhile, we must be using the time it bought to build that ‘surge capacity’.

How is the state government doing?

On March 24th, Gov. Walz said “we have 243 adult ICU beds that are available.” On the 25th, Minn Post reported that Gov. Walz:

…said his Stay Home order was meant partly to provide time to get the ICU bed inventory increased from the current 235 to 1,000. 

On March 31st, KSTP reported:

The state has about 1,400 ICU beds, in total, and the push is to get that total to 2,000 intensive care rooms by using existing space in hospitals and clinics.

On April 3rd, Bring Me the News reported:

The state’s capacity for ICU beds is 1,145, of which 881 are currently in use (40 COVID-19 patients are in ICU as of Friday), leaving a total of available ICU beds at 264.

But another 1,098 ICU beds could be readied within 24 hours notice, and an additional 525 would be ready if needed within 72 hours. 

At present, according to the Minnesota Department of Health, the state currently has 1,222 ICU beds (of which 932 are occupied) and another 1,416 which can be ready in 72 hours for a total of 2,638 beds.

This shows that, in the last 25 days, ICU capacity has increased by 77 bed, the number of beds available at up to 72 hours notice has fallen by 207. Furthermore, the current numbers are exactly the same as they were last Thursday, the 23rd. Hopefully this is simply because the site has not been updated and does not reflect a lack of progress.

We also have to remember that it isn’t only Covid-19 patients using ICU beds. The Department of Health reports that, at present, there are 120 Covid-19 patients in ICU, down from a peak of 126 on April 20th. That means about 800 non-Covid-19 patients in ICU which is consistent with the numbers from April 3rd.

Minnesota COVID-19 hospitalizations , data in table below

It is reasonable to assume that, to cope with an expected peak of 3,700 Covid-19 patients and 800 other ICU cases, capacity will need to be expanded to 4,500. This represents quite a task, another ‘moonshot’, no less. Good work has been on procuring PPE, but if those 150,669 newly unemployed Minnesotans are not to have lost their jobs for nothing, adding those ICU beds is a challenge the state government must rise to.

Keep watching these numbers.

John Phelan is an economist at the Center of the American Experiment. 

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