Six months on, Gov. Walz’ ‘Five-Point Plan for protecting Minnesota’s Long-Term Care residents and workers from Covid-19’ is failing

On May 7th, Governor Tim Walz announced a Five-Point Plan for protecting Minnesota’s Long-Term Care residents and workers from Covid-19. State leaders lined up to boost the plan:

“Ensuring we are in a strong position to care for our most vulnerable populations is a top priority,” said Governor Walz. “That’s why we are implementing a detailed new plan to make sure our long-term care facilities have the support and resources in place to protect residents and workers during this pandemic.”

“We know COVID-19 hits our vulnerable communities hardest,” said Lt. Governor Peggy Flanagan. “This includes in our long-term care facilities — both residents and staff. This plan will help keep this virus at bay and protect the health and well-being of Minnesota’s most vulnerable residents.”

“Long-term care facilities face a special set of risks during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Minnesota Commissioner of Health Jan Malcolm. ”It’s imperative that we work together to protect residents and workers. This new five-point plan will ramp up the support and coordination around this work in the days ahead, and it will give us our best chance to reduce the impacts of this pandemic.”

As of the previous day, Kare 11 reported:

…nearly 84 percent [407] of the state’s 485 deaths were of people living in long-term care, according to the state health department.

Six months on, how is the Governor’s Five-Point Plan doing?

The Minnesota Department of Health’s most recent Weekly Covid-19 Report runs to November 11th. As of that date, 1,998 of those Minnesotans who have died with Covid-19 since the outbreak began have likely been exposed in ‘Congregate Care’ homes. In other words, since the launch of the Five-Point Plan, 1,591 care home residents have died with Covid-19. Over that same period, 2,309 Minnesotans in total have died with Covid-19. This means that, since Gov. Walz launched his Five-Point Plan to protect Minnesota’s Long-Term Care residents and workers from Covid-19, care home residents have accounted for 69% of all the state’s Covid-19 deaths.

This fall of the care home share of Covid-19 deaths from 84% on May 6th to 69% on November 11th might represent a grim sort of ‘success’. Or it might not if it is simply down to a much more rapid rise in non-care home deaths. There is some support for this. In the 47 days between Minnesota’s first Covid-19 death on March 21st and May 6th, the average daily death rate was 8.7 in care homes and 10.3 outside. In the 158 days from May 6th to November 11th, the daily death rate outside care homes has surged to 14.6. But, since Gov. Walz launched his Five-Point Plan, the average daily death rate inside care homes has risen too, to 10.1.

It is true, as I’ve written before, that Covid-19 is not an equal opportunity killer. Research shows that the 1918 A (H1N1) Spanish flu pandemic was notable for being atypically fatal to those aged 20–40 years. By contrast, the CDC estimates that, for Covid-19, the median decedent was aged 78. Covid-19 is like a laser guided missile designed to kill the elderly, especially those in care homes. We would expect to see our state’s care homes hit harder than the general population.

But it is also true that they have been hit harder than we might expect. What the state government has been doing to protect the residents of Minnesota’s care homes doesn’t seem to have met with any great success. They are accounting, on average, for about two thirds of the state’s Covid-19 deaths. State policy should focus on where the problems are most acute.

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