Hang in there, people! I hear a lot in the media about a push to roll back restrictions. Small businesses are suffering, they say. I get that. I’m one of them. But something is missing in articles like “A month into mass quarantine — what now?” by University of Minnesota economics Prof. Christopher Phelan (Opinion Exchange, April 24).
As we design plans to end the stay-at-home guidelines, please remember the medical community. You may think you can survive this virus, but remember that even without a surge of cases, doctors and nurses and all hospital staff are going to work every day, dealing with death, the shortage of protective gear, and the very real fear that they (and their families) will get sick. This takes a toll.
Phelan believes that our medical system has “not been close to being overwhelmed.” But he is only looking at numbers, not people. That may be the role of economics, but we must also realize that we cannot afford to lose medical personnel due to burnout or PTSD. Please, at the very least, ensure that hospitals and clinics have ample PPE before doing anything that drives up the infection rate. Health care workers are fighting this war for us. As we would with our military, we must provide them with the equipment they need.
We hope this is a once-in-a-lifetime crisis. It is going to be a long process. When we look back, we want to remember how well we cared for one another.
Jon Swenson Tellekson, Minneapolis
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Phelan advocated that current social policies to stem the pandemic are misguided and will produce generational theft. His analysis was flawed on two accounts.
First, he misstated the fluid nature of relationships among social separation strategies, health care capacity and mortality. Significant retreat at this point, if undertaken before the appropriate testing capacity and case tracing systems are in place (not currently so), will again risk the collapse of the health care system and the much higher mortality that was originally forecast. This mistake would shamefully trivialize the sacrifices and hard work made to this point by the public and by health care and essential industry workers.
Second, the prioritization of economics over human life and moral values is unacceptable. Mark Carney, former governor of the Bank of England (the Economist, April 16), expressed another view, concluding that the economy must yield to human values. Our market economy is an organized system to support the values of the society, not the other way around.
Contrary to Phelan’s view, I believe that future generations will write about these times, as after the world wars, not in terms of short-term gaps in education or services, nor by stock prices or employment statistics, but by whether we fought unprecedented tragedy together, shoulder to shoulder, with resolve, compassion and respect for all. We can emerge on the other side with our values intact and with a reaffirmed commitment to leave a better world for our children.
Dr. Thomas Green, Winnetka
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Phelan’s excellent commentary advocates protecting the elderly. “But this,” he writes, “cannot come at the cost of ruining the futures of their children and grandchildren.” I am 77, reasonably healthy, and living in a beautiful apartment that is part of a senior complex with full services for all stages of senior living. I am very, very fortunate, and I know it.
I have just come from a four-person celebration of our “adopted” grandson, who will be finishing college soon with no graduation ceremony. He has just lost the job he had been promised; HealthPartners has had to furlough him and many other employees. He is bravely hopeful, doing everything he can to survive as he applies to medical schools. He and so many millions of young people deserve to live, survive and thrive. Depriving them of their opportunities to protect me and my generation is not how I want my life to end.
Barbara Weller, St. Paul
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How sad that in an effort to influence public policy on opening up businesses, Phelan chooses to set up generational conflict with such language as “theft” and “sacrificing the futures of our young.” How uninformed to ignore the reality of the relationship between the generations.
My son’s grandmother provided child care for him for many years. Good friends of mine provide day care for their granddaughter. Paying for child care is beyond the means of many in an economy marked by huge inequities as ours is. Grandparents are a social and economic asset enabling many families to work. And, sadly, there are too many grandparents raising grandchildren as a result of the inequities and dysfunction of our economy.
Here in Minnesota, according to the website grandfamilies.org, 49,769 children live with grandparents. Many more children like those of my friends are cared for daily by grandparents. I doubt that these children and parents believe they are victims of theft.
Leif Grina, Minneapolis
The author is president of the Minneapolis Regional Retirees Council of the Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation.
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Phelan addresses the dilemma confronting elected leaders trying to balance COVID-19 public health needs with apprehension about the economy. In the end, he jumps on the bandwagon of those who regard the old and vulnerable as expendable. He does throw a bone to the old by suggesting that we should do our best to protect the vulnerable, but not at a cost of “sacrificing” (his word) the futures of our grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
I have a great deal of faith in the resilience of the American economy when it’s safe to reopen. Recovery won’t be instant — it will take considerable time. But I have little faith in economists who set up a false choice between young people and at-risk individuals. What truly jeopardizes the future of our children and grandchildren are much more fundamental, serious threats: climate change, the immense gulf in the U.S. between the wealthy and the middle class and poor, and health disparities that afflict the poor and Americans of color.
Young people know this; blind economists apparently don’t.
Gregg Larson, Arden Hills
A forecast is different from a simulation, and both have a role
Why are the model outputs so different? The April 24 article “Why Minnesota’s COVID-19 models are so different” did a good job of explaining. What it should have added is that the Minnesota model is a simulation model and the Washington model is a forecast model.
Forecast models use past patterns to predict future patterns. Most businesses that project future sales use a forecast model. These models can be quite accurate if the future environment or conditions are similar to the past. Therefore, until several countries have a major second wave of COVID-19 infections, the Washington model will not be predicting a second wave.
Simulation models use past data, but not necessarily past patterns, to assess what might happen if future conditions are different from the past, or there is no history of the past. Manufacturers use simulation models to assess what will happen to production throughput if they make major changes to a production line. These models are very good for “what if” analysis.
So which model will be more accurate for COVID-19 projections? If the past is a good indicator of the future, the Washington forecast model will be. But, if future conditions are significantly different, for instance rapidly moving away from social distancing, the Minnesota simulation model will be the better model to predict the outcome.
Richard Holman, Loretto