Gov. Walz has no plan for lifting restrictions on Minnesota’s businesses

Back in April I wrote that Minnesota’s businesses were suffering from a lack of certainty and said that “our state government can make a move towards a measure of certainty by setting out benchmarks.” Ten months on, our state government refuses to set out any such benchmarks and our state’s businesses are still faced with crippling uncertainty.

The news on COVID-19 in Minnesota is good

Minnesota is well placed in its fight against COVID-19. As see in Figure 1, Department of Health numbers show that, as of Feb. 7, the seven day average of new COVID-19 cases was 888, down from a peak of 6,910 on Nov. 13 (a week before the last shutdown of bars and restaurants went into effect).

Figure 1: Newly diagnosed cases of Covi-19 in Minnesota, seven day moving average

Source: Department of Health

I’ve written before that the share of the state’s ICU beds in use is the correct benchmark for assessing how acute Minnesota’s COVID-19 situation is. Here, too, there is good news. Figure 2, also using Department of Health numbers, shows that, in the seven days up to and including Feb. 7, the number of Minnesotans in intensive care unites (ICU) was 81, down from a peak of 388 on Dec. 1 and 2.

Figure 2: ICU hospitalizations in Minnesota, seven day moving average


Source: Department of Health

And, yesterday, Fox 9 reported that, at 3.9 percent, the state’s seven-day average test positivity rate was the lowest it’s been since June 27.

But there is still no end in sight for Gov. Walz’ emergency powers

Even so:

When asked by FOX 9 to outline the metrics he’s using to make his decision, Walz did not name specific benchmarks.

“If it was as easy as saying, if this hits this, we automatically do it – it’s a combination of things,” Walz said. 

Representatives from the bar, restaurant and hotel industries said this week they had not gotten any indications from the Walz administration that a relaxation of capacity limits was coming.

“There’s been no discussion as far as the numbers being so low, what the next step is going to be as far as opening us up,” said Tony Chesak, executive director of the Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association.

This is the essential problem with Gov. Walz’s ongoing emergency powers: whole swathes of the state’s economy are dependent for their survival on the whim of one man, which would be bad enough if that one man had demonstrated that he knew what he was doing. George III never wielded such power.

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