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Is Gov. Walz preparing to end the Coronavirus shutdown?

On April 8th, Gov. Walz extended Minnesota’s stay-at-home order (SHO) to May 4th based on the SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) Model produced by the University of Minnesota School of Public Health and Department of Health. This model’s various outcomes are summarized in the slide below:

Scenario 3 – a ‘Long term SHO for most vulnerable’ – would have extended the SHO for those especially vulnerable to Covid-19, such as older adults and people of any age who have serious underlying medical conditions, but would have allowed other Minnesotans to get back to work observing CDC safe practices, permitting a substantial reopening of the state’s economy. Under this scenario, demand for Intensive Care Unit (ICU) beds would peak at 3,700 on June 8th and 22,000 Minnesotans were forecast to die of Covid-19 over the next 16 months.

Gov. Walz chose Scenario 4. This extended the SHO for all by four weeks. Under this scenario, demand for ICU beds also peaked at 3,700 but on July 13th, and again, 22,000 Minnesotans were forecast to die of Covid-19 over the next 16 months.

The only difference between the two scenarios, and the only reason for choosing one over the other, was the timing of the peaks. Scenario 4 bought more time for the state to build ‘surge capacity’. On April 29th, Gov. Walz announced that this had been accomplished. Nevertheless, he extended the SHO to May 18th.

What happens next? A hint comes today from the state government:

For clarity, here is the first slide from that tweet:

Scenario 5, at the bottom, is the new one. This models the effects of extending the SHO for all until the end of May. Now, bear in mind that when the model was run in April it showed what would happen if these various scenarios were enacted then. Scenario 4 was chosen so we are on track for a peak ICU use of 3,700 on July 13th and 22,000 deaths over the next 16 months.

Scenario 5, then, shows what would happen if we had enacted the SHO extension on April 28th. It shows that the ICU peak would be higher – 4,000 compared to 3,700 – and also that the number of deaths would increase, from 22,000 to 25,000. Both outcomes are worse than we are currently on course for.

The only possible argument in favor of Scenario 5 is another delay in the ICU peak, but, to repeat, on April 29th, Gov. Walz said:

“I today can comfortably tell you that, when we hit our peak — and it’s still projected to be about a month away — if you need an ICU bed and you need a ventilator, you will get it in Minnesota.”

Given the worse outcomes the model predicts for peak ICU usage and mortality from extending the SHO to the end of May, there seems to be no reason at all for Gov. Walz to choose this course of action. It is the strongest signal yet that a significant liberalization of the economy will commence next week. If it doesn’t, Gov. Walz will have to explain why he is junking the state’s model.

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