Minnesota’s total ICU capacity has fallen by 229 beds – 10.6% – since early October

I’ve argued for a while now that the share of Minnesota’s ICU beds in use is the correct benchmark for whether we are in a Covid-19 emergency or not. With this in mind, the Department of Health numbers, shown in Figure 1, are a cause for concern. They show that the number of Covid-19 patients in Minnesota needing ICU beds has risen to 293 for the seven days up to and including November 15th, above the previous peak of 256 for the seven days up to and including June 1st.* Furthermore, the number of Covid-19 patients requiring non-ICU hospital beds is up to a record 1,119 for the seven days up to and including November 15th, smashing the previous peak of 339 for the seven days up to and including May 30th. This is obviously a worrying situation.

Figure 1: ICU and non-ICU Covid-19 hospitalizations in Minnesota, seven day moving averages

Source: Department of Health

But there is some better news. As Figure 2 shows, since November 4th, the number of non-Covid-19 ICU hospitalizations has fallen quite dramatically, from an average of 930 for the seven days up to and including November 4th to 835 for the seven days up to and including November 15th. We shouldn’t bank on this continuing, but it has had the welcome consequence of lessening the impact of the surge in Covid-19 ICU hospitalizations on overall ICU capacity.

But what of that ICU capacity? Figure 2 also shows that Minnesota’s ICU capacity (including those available at 72 hours notice) stood at 1,929 on November 15th. This was 229 ICU beds (10.6%)  fewer than there were as recently as early October (as of today it is down even further, to 1,848). Indeed, as I’ve written before, it is 839 beds (30.3%) down from the state’s ICU capacity of 2,768 beds in April. As of November 15th, Minnesota’s ICU beds were 58.5% occupied. If ICU capacity had been maintained at the level of early October, that number would be down to 52.3%.

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

Source: Department of Health

This is clearly not what we want to see. As Covid-19 cases requiring ICU treatment rise we want to see ICU capacity rising, not falling. When he issued a stay-at-home order on March 25, Gov. Walz said:

“The objective of everything we’re doing here is, it’s too late to flatten the curve as we talked about, the testing regimen was not in place soon enough for us to be able to do that, or expand it enough. So what our objective is now is to move the infection rate out, slow it down, and buy time so that the resources of the ICU and the hospitals and the things that we’re going to talk about today can be stood up to address that.”

On April 29th, when a peak ICU usage of 3,397 for June 29th was forecast, he said:

“I today can comfortably tell you that, when we hit our peak — and it’s still projected to be about a month away — if you need an ICU bed and you need a ventilator, you will get it in Minnesota.”

Minnesotans have made many sacrifices to ensure that adequate ICU capacity is there. They were told it was. Let us hope that was correct.

*The discontinuity in the series is explained here.

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