Analyses of how states responded to COVID highlighted in Walz-Jensen contest for governor

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It was spring 2020 when the pandemic began. All across the country, city and state governments were issuing stay-at-home instructions. There was so much to know about COVID-19’s risks and its future. Yet, partisan judgments were already being made about government responses to the crisis.

Just one month after emergency orders limiting access to public spaces were issued, Donald Trump posted “Liberate Minnesota” as a message of support for protesters who felt the state was restricting business, education, and social life.

Screenshot from Twitter


Two weeks later, TikTok creator justinpollock7



uploaded a video



In which he danced to “Fifty Nifty United States” to either side of a line that divided states that care about their citizens and states that want their citizens dead.

According to the poster, Minnesota was considered “drop dead” in a series that included Nebraska, Missouri, Montana, and Montana. This was because Minnesota hadn’t closed down all public places properly. While some Minnesotans disagreed with justinpollack7’s assertions, the University of Washington-based Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation did not consider Minnesota to have implemented non-essential service closures weeks after the initial lockdown order of March 17.


Both social media messages were directed at Gov. Tim Walz was just 15 months into his first term in office as governor and was suddenly thrust into the middle a public health crisis that was unprecedented by a virus previously unknown.

REUTERS/Nicole Neri
Gov. Tim Walz


Two and a quarter years later, the state has changed its response to the crisis. This is especially true in the race for governor, where Walz is seeking reelection. Walz was both the leader and personification of the state’s successes and failures.


Republican nominee Scott Jensen was a critic of pandemic response. He gained national attention when he claimed that doctors and hospitals were using COVID-related deaths to get higher reimbursements from government and insurance.

Scott Jensen


Minnesota isn’t unique. Pandemic responses are influenced by party preference, not only in the United States but all over the globe. A



Pew Research poll



The results of 19 countries show that respondents who support the party running the government have more positive views. These are just a few of the findings:

  • The U.S. found that 68% of Democrats supported the country’s response to the epidemic, while only 45% of Republicans agreed.
  • 64% of respondents supporting Democrats believe that getting the vaccine “very important” to be a member of society, while only 20% of those who support Republicans agree.
  • Only 10% of Republicans and 23% of Democrats agreed that the country is stronger after the pandemic.

Pew reports that the U.S. is the most popular of the 19 countries surveyed to have said the pandemic caused more division, and are most likely to respond by pointing out the weaknesses in the political system.


The states led the nation’s COVID-19 response, not the federal government. Although the patchwork of state responses may not have been the most efficient in the end, it created a laboratory to test how different interventions matched health needs and economic well-being.

“States learned about each other over time in terms of which policies worked best in terms of containing and minimizing the adverse effects of lockdown strategies for children and businesses,” said a trio economists in A Final Report Card on States’ Responses to COVID-19.

How did the response in Minnesotaspan styling=”font-weight 400 ;”>?

  • March 13, 2020: Walz declared an emergency on the same day that President Trump issued an emergency declaration to the U.S.
  • Walz Schools Closed on March 15, 2020
  • March 17, 2020: Walz closes all bars and restaurants
  • March 25, 2020: Walz issues the first stay at-home order. This order would be relaxed over the spring/summer.
  • May 18, 2020: Walz lifted stay-at-home orders.
  • July 22, 2020: Walz issues an indoor mask mandate.
  • November 18, 2020: Walz closes bars, restaurants and gyms as COVID hospitalizations spiked.
  • July 1, 2021: Walz’s emergency powers were ended.


There have been many attempts to compare and contrast different interventions states during the pandemic in the two years since the March 2020 outbreak. How does Minnesota compare to other states? It all depends on the person you ask and what measurement they use to rank outcomes.


Here’s a summary of some these analyses:

Politico

This news agency has conducted one of the largest examinations of data on education, health outcomes, and the economy. The State Pandemic Scorecard, published by the news organization in December, examined how states balanced these factors.


The authors concluded that there was no one right way to make these choices and are still discussing them. “But almost two years after the first COVID-19 cases were discovered in the United States, data is starting to be collected to begin assessing the consequences of those policy decisions .”


They wrote that every choice had negative consequences. Some were known in advance, while others were only discovered and appreciated months later.


Nebraska was first in all four categories with a score of 100. It had an average score of 73. Its success demonstrates the state’s priorities. Nebraska scored 56 for health outcomes, 90 for economy, 49 for social well-being, 95 in education, and 49 overall. (Social well being used metrics on food insecurity and households’ economic hardship as well as violent crime. )


Politico stated that states that placed more restrictions, such as stay-at home orders and mask requirements, had lower rates of hospitalizations and deaths. They also had worse economic outcomes .”


Minnesota’s average score was just 63, which ranks it 5th in the world. It scored high on education and health outcomes (13th), but low on economy (31st), and social well-being (2nd). The authors chose Minnesota to be a possible balance because it was not performing particularly well or poorly.


span style=”font weight: 400 Walz stated that he was aware that shutting down orders and other restrictions were not popular, but he still called for them to be imposed,” Politico wrote. Walz was able to repeat one his favourite lines during the depths of the pandemic.


span style=”font weight: 400 I got to the point that I was saying, “Please, just wear this mask so you can live long enough to vote for me,” he said to the publication. Walz made the mandatory indoor mask mandate effective July 22, 2020. This was after nearly half of all other governors had done so.


The scorecard also showed a partisan divide in pandemic response: Fourteen states with the highest scores in terms of health outcomes voted in President Joe Biden. Eighteen of the top ten states in economic categories voted in former-President Donald Trump.

The University of Chicago and the Committee to Unleash Profitability

Conservatives may be more inclined to accept “A Final Report card on the States’ Response to COVID-19,” a report prepared by Casey Mulligan, University of Chicago economist, and Phil Kerpen, two economists from The Committee to Unleash Prosperity. This committee supports free-market economic policies, and its founders include Arthur Laffer and Steve Forbes.


Data analysis was done to examine the economy, education, and mortality. The economic data included unemployment rates and gross domestic products; education measured the number of in-person or hybrid classes; and mortality measured excess mortality rates from all causes and COVID-associated deaths.


The study published at the National Bureau of Economic Research didn’t find any relationship between economic performance and good health outcomes, unlike the Politico analysis.


The authors stated that there is no correlation between economic performance and health.


Walz critics may be surprised to learn that Minnesota didn’t get the lowest score in this report. New Jersey, New York and New Mexico were the top five states that received “F” grades. California, Illinois, and California also got “F” grades. Utah, Nebraska and Vermont are among the states that received “A” grades.


Minnesota, which was ranked 26th behind Texas at 25, is almost exactly in the middle. It ranked 18th in unemployment, 32nd gross domestic product, 37th for in-person education, and 9th for age-adjusted death from the virus.


A scatter diagram in the report that compares economic shutdowns and health outcomes places Minnesota about in the middle of all states. It has average economic scores but high health scores.

National Bureau of Economic Research
To focus on the continental U.S. only, we have excluded the unusual geographical cases of Hawaii or Alaska. There is no relationship between the reduced economic activity and the composite mortality measure.

The Commonwealth Fund


A century-old foundation whose mission is to promote high-quality, equitable health care has made grants and supported research into health care issues.

The annual Scorecard on State Health Systems, released in June, included measures on health care during the outbreak. Hawaii and Massachusetts were the highest performing states on 56 health outcomes measures. Mississippi, Oklahoma, and West Virginia were the lowest performing states. The authors noted that states with high-performing health systems prior to COVID performed better during COVID.


The report says that COVID-19 has “certainly challenged the health system in all states.” “Despite this, many states have managed to keep a high level performance in the face .”


Minnesota was ranked 9th, and was the first state in the “Plains”, which also included Iowa and Kansas. Wisconsin was included in Great Lakes region, and ranked 21st overall. Minnesota was ranked 21st overall for COVID-specific measures. Minnesota ranked 4th in vaccination rates and 6th in excess deaths from the virus.


Some of the areas where the state failed to perform well were ICU stress days (30th), shortages in hospital staff (27th) or nursing home deaths (38)

Elizabeth Wrigley Field a demographer at the Minnesota Population Center said that in 2020, 53 percent of state deaths were in nursing homes. The percentage of state deaths in these settings has fallen to 23 percent in 2021, and 25 percent by 2022.


Wrigley-Field suggested that the drop in deaths could be due to fewer deaths over the first year, and that the epicenter of infection was nursing homes. She also said that residents most at-risk were the ones most likely to die from infection and that the rest of the population was healthier. The earliest vaccinations were given to long-term care facilities.

Save the Children

Save the Children’s US Childhood Report included responses from states to the pandemic. Its 2021 report was also included by the advocacy group. Walz most often cites this study, because it places Minnesota in a tie at the top with Utah in terms of how they protected children in the first year after COVID-19. The South is home to the lowest-ranked states.


This study examined four months of 2020 U.S Census Household Pulse Survey data regarding food scarcity, remote learning difficulties and household item costs.


The report did not focus on health outcomes, but rather economic well-being for children and their families. It was found that both states that had ranked high in their pre-pandemic reports and those that had ranked low maintained those rankings post-pandemic.


The report says that the state’s position on this COVID ranking depends on its place on last year’s End of Childhood State Ranking. “Seven states are among the 10 worst in both rankings. This shows that many of the worst fears we have for children who are vulnerable were realized during the pandemic .”

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