To “Re-Open” or Not, That Is Not The Question

By Phil Fuehrer

On April 7, I posted an article to our web site discussing the process of decision making using examples from the current coronavirus pandemic. I wrote, in part, that, “One may disagree with a decision but if it falls within a standard spectrum there will be legitimate or defensible reasons for making that decision.”  The full post can be found here: http://www.mnip.org/covid-19-spectrum-of-leadership-decisions-not-correct-or-incorrect-answers/

The call to “reopen” the Minnesota (and national) economy has grown over the last couple of weeks.  Decisions on “stay-at-home”, “reopen” and under what conditions need to be made, first on assumptions/predictions and with data as that information comes in.

A month has now passed since that April 7 posting and more data has come in.  Some of that data lends itself to the argument of “opening back up”; while those under 50 can be (and have been) affected the real concerns seem to be much smaller segments of the population including those with severe underlying conditions, those in congregate settings (nursing homes, long-term care facilities, etc) and those who are aged 70+; we appear to have created the needed capacity in both hospital bed and ICU space should the situation get worse by “flattening the curve” and buying some time; we’ve been able to get daily testing to a point where it has real value; and, the deaths per million rate is still under 95 (as of today) and (my opinion) a rate of 200 is a delimiting factor defining a bad flu year.

Opening Soon

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The call to “reopen” the Minnesota (and national) economy has grown over the last couple of weeks.  Decisions on “stay-at-home”, “reopen” and under what conditions need to be made, first on assumptions/predictions and with data as that information comes in.

A month has now passed since that April 7 posting and more data has come in.  Some of that data lends itself to the argument of “opening back up”; while those under 50 can be (and have been) affected the real concerns seem to be much smaller segments of the population including those with severe underlying conditions, those in congregate settings (nursing homes, long-term care facilities, etc) and those who are aged 70+; we appear to have created the needed capacity in both hospital bed and ICU space should the situation get worse by “flattening the curve” and buying some time; we’ve been able to get daily testing to a point where it has real value; and, the deaths per million rate is still under 95 (as of today) and (my opinion) a rate of 200 is a delimiting factor defining a bad flu year.

Some of our newer data should still give reason for pause; the virus does appear to be more infectious than the “flu” (even if it also does seem to be less deadly overall); case rates are increasing (though much of that can be attributed to more/better testing rates); but most concerning is probably the daily deaths. We first hit 20 deaths in a single day only two weeks ago. Most of the last two weeks have seen at least 20 deaths per day and daily records since the first death on March 21. And, while the death rate is at 92/million today, we are likely to reach that 200/million rate (a bad year) by month’s end by simply maintaining what we are doing.  That would mean a “bad YEAR” occurring over a span of 2 months and a week – not the usual 9 month or so window that a flu season usually looks at.

Does this all die down over the next week? We don’t know, but probably not. Will wave one be completed by Memorial Day? We don’t know. Should the economy be opened fully this minute? Should we wait until a vaccine or better therapeutic treatments are found?

The reality is that 90+% of the economy is now open and has been increasing each week – including golf courses, “curb-side” pick up retail, and dental services and elective surgical procedures this week. More sectors will certainly be coming including restaurants and services like hair care.

In the end, decisions need to be made with the data you have as well as the values with which you want to lead. Those values should include lives lost, the economy and more – the whole picture. We can be (could have been) a Sweden and largely continued on as “normal’ – and, that would have meant, statistically, roughly an additional 25,000 deaths (so far). Your calculus and weight on the various factors may conclude that our path should have been more Sweden-esque. Or, you may believe even stricter measures should have been implemented. Both sides can be argued.

As for me, looking mostly here at home in Minnesota, we have largely, to date, maintained a proper path. I could quibble over a week here or a business sector there but we would be talking relatively trivial matters. The reality, to me, is that we are moving out of the dark on this, businesses are opening and more will in the coming days (not weeks, but days).  The pendulum is already moving in that direction.

Let us continue to put forth solutions and recommendations on how to safely open additional economic sectors including restaurants at half capacity and those with large outdoor seating areas, hair/nail salons with proper precautions, opening rural stores or those that can easily space customers out, and finding a way to truly protect congregate facilities and workers in our food processing industry.  And, let us see what happens as we approach the May 18 deadline of the current stay-at-home orders.  We can ramp up the rhetoric at that time if it is needed. But, the economy is mostly open and I expect much of the rest will be in the next 10 days.

 

Published May 7, 2020