Coronavirus in one state (152)

Star Tribune commentary editor D.J. Tice perfectly captured the public face of of Minnesota Governor Tim Walz in his weekend column “Taxing the rich is tricker than it seems.” It is one that I have tried to capture several times in this series. Tice observed: “Gov. Tim Walz is a man of many words. He invested a hefty surplus of verbiage last week while touting his new budget proposal to emphasize that ‘if you’re not a millionaire or a billionaire, your taxes aren’t going up at all.’” Tice promptly shows Walz’s assurance to be false by another portion of Walz’s hefty surplus of verbiage and watches him as he talks around the point.

This is Walz in his old-fashioned used car salesman mode. We bought the jalopy when he locked down the state this past March, but it didn’t make it off the lot.

The Minnesota Department of Health took over a week to respond to my straightforward questions submitted in the early morning hours this past January 25. I received the responses to my questions after the close of business yesterday afternoon (the citations following each question are mine):

1. Question: At your press briefings you tell us in one way or another what a good job you are doing with vaccine distribution, yet the state ranks near dead last in comparison with other states. You seem to imply that any deficiencies in distribution are the fault of the federal government’s partnership with pharmacies for distribution in long-term care facilities. Please explain what responsibility you take, if any, for the state’s poor ranking.

Citation for Minnesota ranking:

Answer: The COVID-19 pandemic has been a historic challenge for all responders, including MDH. We are certain that when we look back on the response we will draw many lessons that will help improve future response efforts. While Minnesota may have ranked lower last week, according to the information posted by CDC as of February 1, Minnesota ranked 21st among the 50 states for vaccinations administered per 100,000. Our goal is to rise higher in the weeks ahead, and we are working hard to that end.

2. Question: President Biden stated last week that there is nothing we can do to alter the trajectory of the epidemic over the next several months. If you agree with that assessment, please state why we are still subject to a mask mandate, social restrictions, and limitations on business activity. If you don’t agree with Biden’s statement, please explain what leads you to believe we can affect the trajectory of the epidemic.

Citation for Biden quote (“There’s nothing we can do to change the trajectory of the pandemic in the next several months”):

Answer: We’d refer you to other sources for comment on President Biden’s comments, as it’s not really our role as a state agency to do so. We are confident that vaccinations and actions of Minnesotans regarding factors such as social distancing, masking, and hand washing, will continue to have a significant impact on the course of the pandemic over the next several months.

3. Question: Last week the World Health Organization released an information notice on the use of PCR tests with high cycle number results. The WHO notice specifically warned about the use of PCR tests in a low-prevalence environment. This notice seems inconsistent with your refusal to acknowledge that there is a high likelihood of false and low positives with PCR tests, especially in low prevalence populations. Will this WHO warning change your approach?

Citation for WHO information notice:

Answer: We’ve no changes to report at this time.

Mr. Covid Clarity gives a somewhat more fine-tuned assessment of Minnesota’s vaccination rollout in the tweet below. Compare and contrast with MDH’s response above.

I’m still waiting for the department’s disclosure of the number of cases traced to tribal casinos, which have remained unconstrained by King Tim’s lockdown orders or public health directives and advisories. The department is about a month late getting back to me. The cat has got the tongue of these otherwise talkative public officials.

The failure of the local press to dig into this issue is pathetic. Whatever the relevant numbers, they bear closely on the rationale of one-man rule as it extends into the indefinite future.

Audio of the most recent MDH press briefing is below. The focus is almost entirely on vaccines and vaccinations, yet there are a couple items of general interest. At about 17:15 MinnPost’s Greta Kaul asked for an update on the data comparing the performance of Minnesota with Wisconsin in terms of the relevant numbers. Thanks to its Supreme Court, Wisconsin has remained far more open than Minnesota. They professed ignorance on this point.

At about 35:00 KSTP’s Tom Hauser asked about cases traced to bars and restaurants since King Tim promulgated his latest edict relaxed restrictions. He also asked about cases traced to the resumption of youth sports and the possible relaxation of the face mask requirement for hockey and basketball. They have no data and they are sticking with their story. Infectious Disease Division Director Kris Ehresmann emphasized the emergence of new variants of the disease warranting continued restrictions. The prognosis for freedom is grim.

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