Minnesota, we have a problem revisited
I was very pleased to see that my recent Star Tribune op — Minnesota, we have a problem — generated not one but two day’s worth of replies. Sadly, many…
Risk is something that we cannot completely eliminate. But it is something that we can mitigate. And when it comes to regulation intended to reduce risk, researchers Susan Dudley and Jerry Brito recommend two questions to ask:
“To what extent does the regulation reduce risks?” and “At what costs?”
Asking these two questions enables policymakers to effectively design rules that are not unnecessarily burdensome. If instead, policymakers do not take benefits and costs into account, they enact rules that are costly for little to no benefit. A good example can be seen with the shutdown policies against Covid-19.
At the very beginning of this pandemic, the virus was a novel idea. Information was still coming up, so shutting down was a good way to ensure health systems are not overwhelmed. In fact, that is what Governor Walz stated was the idea behind the lockdown. In this case, the benefits and costs associated with the lockdown, especially under uncertain circumstances seemed to match up. This was assuming these lockdowns would only be temporary.
But down into the year, we have been able to identify who face the biggest health risk with the virus. And additionally, we have been able to observe the implications of shutdown as a method of mitigation. And when it comes to shutting down businesses or social distancing measures, no substantial benefits exist. However, the costs have been massive, especially among groups that fave very little risk.
When it comes to businesses, the U. S restaurant industry has taken a huge toll due to the shutdown and social distancing orders. Over a hundred thousand restaurants have been closed up to date, and the restaurant has suffered a massive loss of revenue and employment.
But on the other hand, these establishments have only been responsible for a very low rate of transmission and spread. As my colleague, John Phelan illustrated, in Minnesota restaurants and bars were responsible for merely 1.7 percent of cases. Yet they continue to suffer under what is “relaxed” restrictions that currently only allow them outside dining during the coldest season of the year.
The same can be said for other stakeholders that have been harmed significantly, like school children, for instance. These are all groups of people that possess very little health risk when it comes to Covid-19. Children for instance have paid dearly with deteriorating mental health as well as loss in learning for a disease that they possess a very significant little risk of infection or death.
There is a huge mismatch here when it comes to who is really at risk and who is bearing the cost of mitigation. And more importantly, there seems to be no connection between the actions taken to mitigate risk and actual reduction in risk. Minnesota, for example, has had one of the strictest lockdowns, yet its Covid-19 outcomes have been comparably worse than that of Wisconsin. Additionally, measures did not help improve outcomes for residents of Long-time Care facility, which continue to make up a majority of deaths.
So much evidence already exists that lockdowns do not affect Covid-19 outcomes. In Minnesota, the only thing shutting down has guaranteed has been job losses and business closures and not better outcomes. That is not a policy worth continuing.