A Free People in a Pandemic is still a Free People

 

 

We aren't going to respond to the Governor's State of the State Address tonight, we'll reply to actions if he takes any, but not his words. And we want to comment on some of his actions thus far.

First, we want to take a moment to note something that bears remembering:

A free people in a time of pandemic continues to be a free people.

The actions of our state and federal government are meant to protect us from harm, but they are taken on our behalf, without precedent, based on laws passed when none of the circumstances of our present situation were known. As such, they are vague and require those using them to balance the use of power with principles of freedom. That includes freedom of speech, freedom of worship, the freedom to earn a living, and freedom from fear.

Freedom of Speech. We were the first to champion the opening of the House committee process to the public, and we are glad to see the Senate also doing its part to open their operations to the public. We realize that it will require a lot of work and effort to do this on the part of members and staff, but it's our solemn duty as representatives of the people to make it a central goal of the process during these times, not an afterthought.

Freedom of Worship. This pandemic has hit us at the most sacred time for Christians, Jews, and Muslims. This week Christians celebrate Holy Week. The Governor should relax the Executive order governing Churches, and the Minnesota Department of Health should issue guidelines for how Congregations might celebrate together safely in each other's company, not merely direct them to broadcast their services. If grocery stores can figure out ways to serve people, so can religious leaders. After this period of immense disruption, many of us feel a need to have our spirits fed, not just our bodies, and the government needs to respect our right to be able to choose to do that.

Freedom to Earn a Living. On Friday, we sent a letter to the Governor asking him to fast track the Federal unemployment funds to independent contractors and gig workers. These are people who work without a net and depend like everybody else on a functioning economy. Through no fault of their own, they lost their employment when the government abruptly shut down the economy. We all pay taxes, and people who work for the government or large employers should not be privileged over small businesses and sole proprietors. We need them all to make our economy work.

We also have read that health care facilities are closing down and laying off workers. More than 10,000 healthcare workers who have been laid off as a result of your order to stop "elective procedures." But there are many kinds of elective procedures. Some are elective simply because they are not urgent. But over time, some of those procedures that were "elective" a month ago become urgent. Some deaths may even result from people who were turned away from getting medical help while hospitals were waiting with empty beds for a surge of patients.

Freedom from Fear. We recognize that the Governor's authority in the peacetime emergency allows him to issue executive orders, which must be complied with on threat of jail or a fine. But issuing directives and using statistics to gin up fear will have adverse consequences in the way that people trust our leaders to make choices for us that are fair and legitimate. Here are a few observations about the way that statistics are used that exaggerate the threat to get people's compliance.

  • In the daily briefing, the Commissioner of Health starts by giving the number of cases and deaths worldwide, nationally, and then in Minnesota. It's not that we shouldn't care about people elsewhere, but we have no control over the quality of those statistics and can't affect them in any real way. Why start out with the largest numbers except to exaggerate the threat?
  • The second point the Commissioner leads with is the age range of cases. Almost poetically she says "cases range from 4 months to 104." Then she gives the median age of cases. With a range like that, anyone with a basic knowledge of statistics knows that you'd need to see the average and most often occurring ages to make sense of that median. She does not tell us what we need to know, which is the average age of people who die of COVID in Minnesota. Instead, she highlights the age-spread of cases and gives us an age range that is likely to make everyone think that they could become sick and die from this disease. It's a rhetorical trick meant to scare people.
  • The new positive cases are stacked, beginning with January 10th. By making this time-dependent over such an extended period, of course, the numbers will grow. That gives a false sense that there are no gains, only losses over that time. We should be emphasizing new cases or just cases of people who are admitted to hospital care.
  • At the beginning of this pandemic, testing was limited to those who were sick and on the point of being admitted to a hospital. Now that testing is more widespread, we should be using that data to make our COVID statistics more accurate. News reports are suggesting that the state of Minnesota is going to start counting "presumed COVID" deaths. This cannot happen. There is no other reason to do it other than to exaggerate deaths due to COVID.

We also need to think about the assumptions behind the stay at home order. We were told it was to "flatten the curve." Nobody wants to see hospitals and government break down, but we need to look at the costs on the other side of the scale, the vast numbers of unemployed, and the social costs that will result from a broken economy. We need to stop putting government first in this equation. Government serves the people.

Minnesota has the best healthcare in the nation, and as we've recently seen, it is better than most of the world. Let's lead the country back to economic prosperity by being the first state to safely lift the stay at home order and return the reins of the economy to the people.