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How have Minnesota and its neighboring states responded to the Coronavirus?

A couple of weeks ago, it wasn’t unusual to hear people praising Minnesota as leading the nation in its response to Covid-19. True, it was always someone from Minnesota, but you don’t hear anyone saying it now. Perhaps that is because the data is starting to come in: as my colleague Isaac Orr wrote last week, Minnesota has the highest Covid-19 death rate and the highest unemployment rate out of any neighboring state.

So how well has Minnesota’s state government dealt with Covid-19? It is too early to say definitively. While the United States as a whole seems to have ‘flattened the curve’ in the sense that the number of new cases each day is no longer increasing, neither has it ‘bent the curve’ yet and seen this number decline, as the chart below (for deaths) illustrates. The disease is brand new, we are still learning about it, and we don’t know how long it will be with us.

But what we can do is start to build a framework that would allow us to asses our state government’s response to Covid-19. We can ask a series of questions suggested by the debate around the policy response: How did our state government respond? How did Minnesotans themselves respond? Given the stated importance of testing, how has the state government done there? How do our death rates compare? Is the grave situation in our care homes worse than the average? And what was the economic cost of all this? Addressing each of these in turn will allow us to arrive at a judgement.

Finding an X variable

The first question is: how did our state government respond?

24/7 Wall Street provides a useful summary of responses as of April 25th, which covers the first month of Minnesota’s shutdown. In time honored tradition, we will compare our state’s performance to that of its neighbors.

Minnesota

The stay-at-home order was extended until May 4. People can still leave their homes to pick up essential items such as groceries or food, prescriptions, and gas, to relocate for safety reasons, or go to work if their job is deemed essential. Schools are closed for the rest of the school year. Some recreational activities, including golfing, boating, fishing, hunting and hiking have been allowed to resume after April 18.

Days between first case on 3/6/2020 and statewide stay-at-home effective date (3/27/2020): 21

Wisconsin

Residents are ordered to stay at home or at their place of residence, with few exceptions. When outside, they must at all times maintain social distancing of at least 6 feet from any other person. Public gatherings are banned, and schools and nonessential businesses are closed. All but essential travel is prohibited. Violation or obstruction of the order is punishable by up to 30 days imprisonment or up to $250 fine or both. The order is in effect at least until at least May 26.

Days between first case on 2/5/2020 and statewide stay-at-home effective date (3/25/2020): 49

Iowa

There was no statewide stay-at-home order as of April 24. Nonessential businesses are closed at least until April 30. Gatherings of more than 10 people are prohibited. Large gatherings are canceled or postponed. Livestock auctions of food animals with more than 25 people and all other auctions with more than 10 people are prohibited. Anyone who refuses to limit social gatherings could face misdemeanor charges. Schools are closed through the rest of the school year.

South Dakota

There was no official stay-at-home order as of April 24. People are encouraged to stay at home and not gather in groups of 10 or more. Any enclosed businesses should offer alternative services to comply with CDC guidance. When outside, people must be at least 6 feet apart. All businesses are encouraged to suspend daily business in the interest of public safety. Schools are closed in the state through the rest of the year.

North Dakota

There was no statewide stay-at-home order as of April 24. However, visitations to long-term care facilities are suspended, and all nonessential businesses are closed at least until April 30. Schools are closed until further notices, but some facilities will be allowed to reopen in May. Some businesses will be allowed to open, but safety measures such as daily disinfection and limits on the number of customers will be in effect.

Table 1 in a new paper by economist Junjie Guo titled ‘The Impact of Statewide Stay-at-Home Orders: Estimating the Heterogeneous Effects Using GPS Data from Mobile Devices‘ confirms this. In summary, with some minor variations, we have two states which enacted stay-at-home orders (SHO) – Minnesota and Wisconsin – and three which didn’t – Iowa, South Dakota, and North Dakota. Given these differing responses, what differences do we see in the outcomes?

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

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