No, mask mandates and business closures didn’t work pre-vaccine

In response to Minnesota’s growing COVID-19 cases, reporters asked Gov. Tim Walz whether he would consider enacting a state of emergency that would enable him to enact some restrictions like business closure mandates or mask mandates. Walz has said that this will be unlikely.

While this appears to do mainly with political reasons, Walz has also indicated that a reason for his unwillingness to call for a state of emergency is because mask mandates and business closures would not work. Walz is choosing instead to focus on getting Minnesotans vaccinated.

According to an article from Bring me the News,

When asked if calling another state of emergency is on the table for him at this point, Gov. Walz said he needs his team in place to bring Minnesota out of this pandemic. 

He is referencing the fact that if he uses his emergency powers it would trigger a special session of the Minnesota Legislature. Republican lawmakers said they would remove Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm if he uses his powers.

Walz said he doesn’t want to do anything to jeopardize having his commissioners in place at this “critical” time, later adding removing Malcolm would “cripple” the state’s response to the pandemic.  

“We all know there is no correlation to me using emergency powers that actually show it protected people or made a difference. It’s the political side of it, and so at this point in time, we’ve got work to do. I know I’m getting no help from the Senate and because of that, I’m continuing to focus on the tools that will make the biggest difference. And that’s where I’m going to stay,” Walz said. 

Walz then clarified what he said, saying using his emergency powers made a difference pre-vaccine but they are not as effective of a tool currently, noting there are few things he could do via emergency powers to help things now. 

“This is not about holding back and saying, ‘Well if the governor would just call a peacetime emergency our death rates would go down,'” Walz said. “That is demonstrably false at this point in time, especially if people do not follow them. What we do know, and the data supports this, is vaccines, boosters and getting these 5- to 11-year-olds done is the most effective thing we can do.”

Mask mandates and business closures didn’t work pre-vaccine

Certainly mask mandates and face masks wouldn’t work now, but that would not wholly be due to vaccines or people’s unwillingness to obey mandates. Even before the vaccine, a lot of evidence showed that COVID-19 restrictions had little to do with COVID-19 outcomes, but in turn imposed significant costs on Minnesotans — and not just the economy.

One only has to look at the significant increase in drug overdose deaths, record business closures, increase in deaths from other health issues due to restrictions on access to care, worsening mental health among kids, significant learning losses, and significant job losses in the leisure and hospitality industry, among other issues to see how costly the lockdowns were.

With COVID-19 cases and hospitalization increasing among vaccinated individuals, it might be more a sign that immunity from vaccines is waning off, something which booster shots can help with –– especially among the more vulnerable populations. National data indicates that hospital visits are specifically increasing among the elderly and those in nursing homes. These are the same individuals who were among the first to be eligible for vaccines last winter.

Throughout the duration of the pandemic, hospitalizations and deaths have been concentrated within vulnerable groups — namely the elderly, residents of long-term care facilities, and people with underlying health conditions. This remains true to date.

On today’s update, for example MDH reported a total of 32 deaths, nearly 80 percent of which are among indivduals 65 and older. Additionally, as of today, 85 percent of all COVID-19 deaths are among individuals 65 and older. And despite only making up 11 percent of all cases, individuals 65 and older have made up close to 50% COVID-19 hospitalization (both ICU and total).

Governor Walz is right, but for the wrong reasons

So, Gov. Walz is right that mask mandates and business closures would not be effective, but not for the reasons he gives. COVID-19 restrictions were not effective even before the introduction of the COVID-19 vaccine, and COVID-19 deaths and hospitalizations continue to be concentrated among vulnerable populations. Business closures and mask mandates would not change that.