Minnesota’s COVID-19 crisis is primarily a crisis in its care homes. How will a new lockdown solve that?

On Friday, I wrote about how Covid-19 impacts different people in different ways depending on various demographic factors. One of these factors was whether or not you were a resident of one of Minnesota’s care homes or not.

There are an estimated 54,699 residents in Minnesota’s care homes: 1.0% of the state’s population. Yet, according to the Minnesota Department of Health’s latest Weekly Covid-19 Report (which runs to August 6th), the state’s ‘Congregate care’ facilities account for 14.6% (8,541) of the state’s Covid-19 cases. Even worse, with 1,288 deaths, they account for 78.7% of all Minnesota’s Covid-19 fatalities.

These numbers illustrate a point we have made before: Minnesota’s Covid-19 crisis is primarily a crisis in its care homes. The state’s policy response should, therefore, be focused there. With this in mind, a new lockdown – as proposed by Minneapolis Fed president Neel Kashkari this weekend – is of little use.

Care homes are, by their nature, pretty much ‘locked down’ anyway – or ought to be. The state’s practice of sending patients infected with Covid-19 into care homes has been a deadly disaster. This should stop. Research shows that reducing the number of staff shared between care homes can also play a major role in reducing infections there. Either way, there are measures we can take to reduce the spread of the virus in these settings without locking down the whole state again.

The raw numbers do not justify drastic new measures. At present, Minnesota has 1,012 ICU beds out of 1,216 in use with a capacity of 2,176 at 72 hours notice. There are 159 Covid-19 patients receiving ICU treatment in Minnesota, a number not up greatly since the start of this month and below any period between May 3rd and June 22nd. Today was our 39th consecutive day with single digit deaths: between April 20th and June 13th, we had just one such day.

In a recent talk with me, Chris Phelan, chair of the Department of Economics at the University of Minnesota, said that the initial lockdown made sense as long as good use was made of the time to analyze data and formulate an effective policy. That is a sensible assessment. Now, though, it seems that lockdowns have become something of an end in themselves.

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