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Minnesota’s Department of Health is going to stop reporting the number of people in hospital with Covid-19

Today, Michael Corey from the Star Tribune tweeted:

It is more than unfortunate. It is a scandal.

As I wrote last weekend:

When he closed Minnesota’s bars and restaurants on March 16, Gov. Walz said, “We’re not going to stop this from spreading, but we can stop how fast it spreads and we can make sure that we protect those most vulnerable.” When he issued a stay-at-home order on March 25, he said: “The objective of everything we’re doing here is, it’s too late to flatten the curve as we talked about, the testing regimen was not in place soon enough for us to be able to do that, or expand it enough. So what our objective is now is to move the infection rate out, slow it down, and buy time so that the resources of the ICU and the hospitals and the things that we’re going to talk about today can be stood up to address that.”

The point of the closures and the stay-at-home order was not to kill the coronavirus but to slow its spread so that the health system’s ability to cope would not be overwhelmed: “The thing that Minnesota is going to do is ensure if you need an ICU, it’s there,” Gov. Walz explained.

When Gov. Walz responded to Covid-19 – with emergency powers, closures, shutdowns and all the rest – the purpose was to build and maintain the capacity in Minnesota’s healthcare system to cope with a forecast surge in hospital admissions.

And now the Department of Health is going to stop reporting the numbers that Minnesotans need to see how well we are meeting that primary objective.

Why would they do this? As I wrote at the weekend, when Gov. Walz announced his initial measures in March:

He was being guided by the University of Minnesota and Minnesota Department of Health’s SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) model. On April 10, Version 2 of this model forecast a peak of 3,700 Minnesotans needing ICU treatment for COVID-19 on July 13.

So, it was good news on April 29 when Gov. Walz announced: “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.” When Version 3 was unveiled on May 13 and forecast a peak ICU usage of 3,397 on June 29, the state was equipped to handle it.

In the event, the peak — so far — was nowhere near as bad as the forecast, coming on May 30, with 263 Minnesotans needing ICU treatment. Following a string of such failed predictions, the model has now been quietly abandoned.

Since then we have been repeatedly warned that hospitalizations were about to surge again. As I wrote in July:

On July 17th, the Mankato Free Press reported:

“It’s extremely likely” that Minnesota will see hospitalizations and intensive care cases on the upswing as soon as next week, Kris Ehresmann, the state’s infectious disease director, told reporters Friday.

Ehresmann was proved right. In the seven days up to and including July 17th, an average of 135 Minnesotans had needed non-ICU hospitalization for Covid-19 and 112 had needed intensive care (ICU) treatment. For July 31st, those numbers had risen to 161 and 151 respectively. The forecast surge of hospitalizations was upon us.

And then it stopped. In the seven days up to and including today, an average of 154 Minnesotans needed non-ICU hospitalization for Covid-19 and 148 have needed ICU treatment. 

For the seven days up to and including yesterday, more than two months after Ehresmann’s warning and the final day the Department of Health will report such numbers, an average of 127 Minnesotans needed non-ICU hospitalization for Covid-19 – down down eight from July 17th – and 134 needed ICU treatment – up 22: some surge. Figure 1 is the last version of this chart I will be able to produce.

Figure 1: Covid-19 hospitalizations in Minnesota

Source: Minnesota Department of Health

According to the Department of Health, the state currently has 1,061 ICU beds out of 1,222 in use with a capacity of 2,158 available at 72 hours’ notice.

Time and again during the Covid-19 pandemic, Minnesota’s state government has acted on forecasts and warnings which have turned out to be wildly pessimistic. When the data fails to support your model it is generally a good idea to revise the model. The Department of Health is just going to dump the data into the memory hole.

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

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