Gov. Walz should end his shutdown of Minnesota’s bars and restaurants

Yesterday, Teddy Tschann, “a spokesman” for Gov. Walz, said that, tomorrow, the Governor will “announce loosened restrictions…on indoor dining and in other settings”. WCCO reports:

…Tschann said the governor will make the move Wednesday as the state’s coronavirus numbers have improved in recent weeks “following the pause on activities around the holidays.” 

Note, for a second, what a contemptuous way this is to treat the state’s bars and restaurants. If the decision has been taken, announce it, don’t send some spokesman out to whisper it to the press corps two days out. Businesses cannot just stop and start like a car engine. In the case of bars and restaurants, there is inventory to get and staffing to sort. This illustrates once again the costs of having a government stuffed with people who have no private sector experience.

New cases and the positivity rate were already falling before bars and restaurants were shutdown

Furthermore, it isn’t true, as Teddy Tschann says, that Minnesota’s Covid-19 numbers improved “following the pause on activities around the holidays.” The improvement preceded the shutdown.

Figure 1 shows Department of Health data for newly diagnosed cases and newly diagnosed cases as a share of all tests – the positivity rate – averaged over seven days. We see that the number of new cases peaked with an average of 6,871 in the seven days up to and including November 13th – one week before Gov. Walz’ shutdown of bars and restaurants went into effect on November 20th. The positivity rate likewise peaked and began falling before bars and restaurants were shutdown: at 18.6% in the seven days up to and including November 10th.

Figure 1: New Covid-19 cases and share of tests positive in Minnesota, seven day moving average

Source: Department of Health

Of course, it is possible that closing bars and restaurants accelerated this decline and that it would not have been so impressive without it. But, even if this is true, the effect is small when we consider that our neighboring states show almost exactly the same pattern: a marked upward surge in the rate of new cases between mid-August and mid-September rising to peaks in mid-November, before falling away quite rapidly up to the present.

This should not be surprising. The Department of Health’s own data does not support Gov. Walz’ shutdown of Minnesota’s bars and restaurants. Data from New York, California, and the United Kingdom suggest that restaurants account for a small share of infections. The tragedy here is that so much damage has been done to these businesses and it might well have been for nothing. No more should be done and Gov. Walz should end the shutdown immediately.

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