Why doesn’t the data that closes bars re-open schools?

Governor Walz’s announcement today notified Minnesotans of new COVID-related restrictions that will go in effect Friday, November 13 (yes, I thought that too).

Included in the restrictions:

  • Bars and restaurants have a 10 p.m. curfew, with their indoor capacity capped at 150 people (or not exceeding 50 percent of total capacity).
  • Bar counter service will be closed for seating and service, except if the establishment is counter-service only.
  • No bar games that require standing.
  • Indoor/outdoor gatherings limited to 10 people or less.

On November 27, receptions following weddings, funerals, and similar events will be limited to 50 people, and then 25 people beginning December 11.

All current restrictions also remain in effect.

According to Walz’s office, 70 percent of coronavirus outbreaks between June and November have a “direct link back to weddings, private social gatherings, and late nights at bars and restaurants,” reports Adam Uren.

If data is identifying major spreaders of COVID-19, why don’t state leaders use data to identify what aren’t super-spreaders?

According to a statement from Senator Michelle Benson, “There is a double standard when you use transmission and super-spreader events as the reason to restrict activity at bars, and community spread as the reason to limit in-person learning. If we’re going to use data-driven decision making, we ought to be using the same data inputs to make decisions.”

As I have written here and here, schools aren’t the major super-spreaders they were feared to be. As the Star Tribune reports, teachers and school staff needing to quarantine are doing so because “they or a family member spent time with someone who tested positive, usually at gatherings unrelated to school.”

There is ample guidance and numerous best practices about “how to reopen schools in ways that minimize the risks to the health and safety of both children and adults,” writes Dr. Chester E. Finn, Jr. with the Fordham Institute. “We also know that hundreds of schools and school systems are actually doing this. … Many private schools are managing this, too, including both day schools and fancy boarding schools. So are lots of charter schools.”

If “following the science” is guiding decisions, then it needs to be followed—and applied—consistently.