Gov. Walz is not following the data in closing gyms

During the Covid-19 pandemic in Minnesota, Gov. Walz has made much of how he is following ‘the science’ and/or ‘the data’.

This is often not true. Gov. Walz was not following the data when he closed Minnesota’s bars and restaurants: between mid-June and their latest closure, the Department of Health’s own data showed that they were linked with just 1.7% of Minnesota’s Covid-19 cases. Neither was Gov. Walz following the science when he banned family get-togethers for Thanksgiving: in a recent New York Times article, arger events, such as weddings and funerals, “especially if held indoors, certainly can drive infections”, but that:

…the same cannot be said of smaller private gatherings with friends and family. In Colorado, only 81 active cases are attributed to social gatherings, compared with more than 4,000 from correctional centers and jails, 3,300 from colleges and universities, nearly 2,400 from assisted living facilities, and 450 from restaurants, bars, casinos and bowling alleys.

In Louisiana, social events account for just 1.7% of the 3,300 cases for which the state has clear exposure information.

“It’s important to give good public health advice about what’s coming in the holidays, no doubt about it,” said Dr. Tom Inglesby, director of the Center for Health Security at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “But it is not good to suggest that they are now the preponderance of the source of spread.”

Ashleigh Tuite, an infectious disease modeler at the University of Toronto, called Gov. Walz’ measures unscientific and “bizarre”.

Gyms have been linked to 0.3% of Minnesota’s Covid-19 cases

The same is true of the current shut down of Minnesota’s gyms. When their closure was announced on November 18th, Fox 9 reported that:

Minnesota Governor Tim Walz said his restrictions for the four-week pause were powered by data and science…

But his own data, at that time, showed that gyms were linked with 747 cases. This might sound like a lot, until we consider that Minnesota had recorded 276,372 cases of Covid-19 by November 18th: in other words, gyms had been linked to just 0.3% of the state’s cases when Gov. Walz decided to shut them down again. WCCO reported:

Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said those statistics are an undercount because they don’t reflect spread beyond the primary cases. 

So what is the scale of this “spread beyond the primary cases”? We just don’t know. But if there isn’t any data, how can we be following it?

Gov. Walz admits: “it’s not numbers, it’s not data”

In response to Gov. Walz’ latest round of closures, CEO of Life Time Fitness Braham Akradi filed a request for access to government data to see the exact amount of virus spread happening in health clubs in Minnesota. WCCO reported:

Life Time said in a statement, “We have had approximately 3.15 million visits to its Minnesota clubs since they reopened on June 10. Since that time 352 positive cases of COVID-19 have been reported by members and/or team members. This equates to .0001% of the total amount of cases in the state.”

When Gov. Walz was questioned on this and other closures during a press conference on November 20th, he replied:

“I think this really does come down to, like so much of it, it’s not numbers, it’s not data…um…its neighborliness, and it’s about we’re all in this together”

The staff of Life Time Fitness are certainly ‘in it’.

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