An open letter to Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz and Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm:
We are grateful for all your hard work these last few weeks. You have been laboring without rest doing what you believe it takes to keep Minnesotans safe. You have been making difficult decisions that touch the lives of millions.
The answers to the crisis are complicated, with repercussions in every aspect of Minnesotans’ lives.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has stated: “No American is going to say, ‘Accelerate the economy at the cost of human life.’ Because no American is going to say how much a life is worth.”
However, some of the tools employed fighting COVID-19 are creating needless harm to our citizens’ mental and financial well-being, while providing no benefit in the fight. And they are also putting the over 100,000 Minnesotans with a disability at great risk when next year’s budget shows billions in shortfalls.
Caring for them is very expensive, and since the human-services budget is over 50% of Minnesota’s all-funds spending, the “fix” will land on their shoulders.
Service providers are already closing, clients will be poorly cared for and some may die.
That doesn’t have to happen, if we act wisely now.
In his treatise “Coronavirus: The Hammer and the Dance,” technology entrepreneur Tomas Pueyo clearly favors suppression strategies such as sheltering in place. However, and much less noticed, he also warns to consider the economic and social cost, and to pick the ones that get the biggest reduction in transmission for the lowest cost.
We also agree with renowned Minnesota epidemiologist Mike Osterholm: “And I’m tired of hearing people say, ‘We’ll do everything even if we overreact.’ ”
It is for this reason that we write you today. Minnesotans are concerned. With the Stay At Home executive order, “essential” services are allowed to continue while “nonessential” ones are not.
Winners and losers are unnecessarily and arbitrarily being determined.
Many families will be unable to pay their bills, their property taxes, or their mortgages. Many will unnecessarily be forced into bankruptcy and become dependent on the state, in a time when we will be devoid of resources. Some may feel so much despair they attempt suicide. And it will all have been preventable.
A small insurance company in Anoka is open, since it provides financial services. Next to it, a hair salon with a single chair is shuttered by executive order. The insurance agency will be able to pay its rent and property tax on a home. The hair stylist with the salon may never open again.
Superstores like Walmart are open, sites teeming with transmission opportunities. However, the Anoka Greenhaven golf course is closed by executive order. It can operate virtually, with the golf twosome interacting with no staff. These two can go for a walk in the park. But they cannot share a 130-acre golf course with 70 other golfers even while the golf course can assure social distancing.
Cabinet makers are closed by executive order. There is a company with three men who are the only workers in a huge warehouse. They cannot work.
These are not “hard choices.” These are unnecessary losses. In each instance, no measurable epidemiological benefit is attained. However, massive economic and emotional distress is created.
This is not the Minnesota way. Minnesotans don’t want loans or handouts. They want to work. And they want to protect the most vulnerable among us.
We offer a solution. A Minnesota Solution:
• Encourage people to stay home. They already are. The message to socially distance has taken root. It is working. Transmission rates are already far below what they would have been. We have “flattened the curve.” We are safer.
• So now, let us define “safe” vs. “unsafe” sites instead of “essential” vs. “nonessential” functions. If a site is generally safe, let it remain open or reopen. Let the solo hair stylist remain in his or her hair salon. Let the golfers golf. Let the cabinet builders build.
• Give our families and businesses the chance to safely work and be strong for after this crisis. Allow them to feed their families.
• The state can offer guidance and safe operation policies to keep Minnesotans moving forward. It can help guide “unsafe” industries in what they will need to do, and they will gladly comply.
• This will cause no impact on the fight against COVID-19, but it will greatly aid in the financial recovery, and it will markedly improve many people’s mental health.
• Minnesota can lead the country again. We can provide a national model for fighting COVID-19 and freeing the economy, simultaneously.
Thank you considering these alternative perspectives. We offer you our continued partnership to work together for every Minnesotan in this unprecedented time.
Jim Abeler, R-Anoka; John Hoffman, DFL-Champlin; and Dr. Scott Jensen, R-Chaska, are members of the Minnesota Senate.