Gov. Walz has failed to protect Minnesota’s care homes

When he closed Minnesota’s bars and restaurants the first time round, back in March, 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.”

At that time, we knew that care homes were Ground Zero of the pandemic, that their residents constituted the most vulnerable. On March 11th, MPR News reported:

On Tuesday, following guidance from the federal government and recommendations from a national industry group, many of Minnesota’s nursing homes and long-term care facilities started to limit or discourage visitors.

The threat of COVID-19 to the elderly, who often have one or several chronic health conditions, has been highlighted by the number of deaths at a Washington nursing home.

Patti Cullen, CEO and president of Care Providers of Minnesota, spoke with MPR News host Cathy Wurzer about the latest prevention efforts at senior living facilities statewide.

“The statistics are pretty alarming,” Cullen said. “We’re all hands on deck right now.”

This was soon born out in Minnesota. On May 6th, Kare 11 reported:

…nearly 84 percent [407] of the state’s 485 deaths were of people living in long-term care, according to the state health department.

The following day, Gov. Walz announced a Five-Point Plan for protecting Minnesota’s Long-Term Care residents and workers from Covid-19. State leaders lined up to boost the plan:

“Ensuring we are in a strong position to care for our most vulnerable populations is a top priority,” said Governor Walz. “That’s why we are implementing a detailed new plan to make sure our long-term care facilities have the support and resources in place to protect residents and workers during this pandemic.”

“We know COVID-19 hits our vulnerable communities hardest,” said Lt. Governor Peggy Flanagan. “This includes in our long-term care facilities — both residents and staff. This plan will help keep this virus at bay and protect the health and well-being of Minnesota’s most vulnerable residents.”

“Long-term care facilities face a special set of risks during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Minnesota Commissioner of Health Jan Malcolm. ”It’s imperative that we work together to protect residents and workers. This new five-point plan will ramp up the support and coordination around this work in the days ahead, and it will give us our best chance to reduce the impacts of this pandemic.”

Sadly, the plan has failed.

The Minnesota Department of Health’s most recent Weekly Covid-19 Report runs to November 19th. As of that date, 2,200 of those Minnesotans who have died with Covid-19 since the outbreak began have likely been exposed in ‘Congregate Care’ homes. In other words, since the launch of the Five-Point Plan, 1,793 care home residents have died with Covid-19. Over that same period, 2,598 Minnesotans in total have died with Covid-19. This means that, since Gov. Walz launched his Five-Point Plan to protect Minnesota’s Long-Term Care residents and workers from Covid-19, care home residents have accounted for 69% of all the state’s Covid-19 deaths.

As I wrote recently:

Covid-19 is not an equal opportunity killer. Research shows that the 1918 A (H1N1) Spanish flu pandemic was notable for being atypically fatal to those aged 20–40 years. By contrast, the CDC estimates that, for Covid-19, the median decedent was aged 78. Covid-19 is like a laser guided missile designed to kill the elderly, especially those in care homes. We would expect to see our state’s care homes hit harder than the general population.

But it is also true that they have been hit harder than we might expect. What the state government has been doing to protect the residents of Minnesota’s care homes doesn’t seem to have met with any great success. They are accounting, on average, for about two thirds of the state’s Covid-19 deaths. 

On of of the state government’s key aims in the fight against Covid-19, it is failing.

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