Gov. Tim Walz has extended Minnesota’s stay-at-home order until May 4, and for anyone who may have questioned the wisdom of doing so, the latest statistics offer grim proof of need.
On Thursday, the Minnesota Department of Health reported 88 new cases of COVID-19 across the state and 11 deaths — the highest one-day death total since the start of the pandemic.
That said, there is good news as well. The current stay-at-home order has paid dividends in the face of a stealthy, persistent virus that has swept the globe. Even with the latest numbers, Minnesota has the lowest confirmed case rate in the nation — 17 per 100,000 people — thanks to early action by the state and high cooperation from the public.
When it executed its initial stay-at-home order, the Walz administration cited 12- to 18-month modeling suggesting that the strategy could reduce deaths in the state by as much as a third — from 74,000 to about 50,000. New modeling that will be explained in more detail Friday projects the stay-at-home strategy might cut deaths to a range of 6,000 to 20,000, officials said Wednesday. At the same time, the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) has again dropped its projected death toll for Minnesota in the next four months, from 625 to 456.
Minnesota’s success in keeping the spread down is buying critical time to gather supplies, increase testing — both for infection and antibodies — and to cope with patients who need hospitalization and intensive care.
Unlike some harder-hit states, Minnesota now appears to have enough hospital beds to meet projected need, assuming case rates don’t spike. Hospitals now have the ability to ready 1,072 ICU beds within 24 hours and another 525 by the 72-hour mark, and IHME modeling suggests that may be enough to meet projected need.
The enormous economic toll that the virus is taking is undeniable, and to the extent possible the Walz administration should begin outlining a longer-term strategy for getting Minnesota back in business. But this is not an either-or situation. To the extent that there’s a choice, it must be to save lives and deal with the economic consequences, or to risk more deaths, overwhelmed hospitals, critical shortages and economic consequences.
Thankfully, Minnesota’s leaders have opted to save lives and protect health as the world races to understand and conquer this latest threat. The most telling evidence is in the falling projections of deaths. Those initial, higher numbers weren’t necessarily wrong. They offered a glimpse of what could be if we did nothing, made no sacrifices and just tried to carry on with business as usual. Minnesotans collectively rejected that fate. Instead, together, they flattened the curve.
It’s critical to stay the course. As Walz said in announcing the extension on Wednesday, “It can all go sideways very quickly if we don’t continue.” The stay-at-home order also includes a careful expansion of exemptions in critical industries that start to edge this state closer to normal. More businesses could be reopened soon, data permitting.
Hang tough, Minnesotans. It may not feel like you’re doing much to fight this, but the simple acts of staying home and keeping your distance, washing your hands and caring for one another makes you warriors in this battle.