The novel coronavirus model developed at Minnesota experts is the foundation for some of the executive orders Gov. Tim Walz has issued since the start of the outbreak a month ago, including the extension of a "Stay at Home" order that now runs through May 4.
The extension of the order has been met with pushback from Minnesotans worried about their finances and long-term employment status, including from Republic Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, who believes Minnesota's healthcare system is already prepared to handle the strongest of surges the COVID-19 outbreak could bring.
"Gov Walz expecting up to 5,000 people in ICU this June. New York State has less than 5,000 people in the ICU TODAY!" tweeted Gazelka. "NY has 19.5 million people to our 5.6 million. We have around 3000 beds available. We are ready for the surge now. Why shut MN business down for a NY sized surge?"
To be clear, Walz referenced the Minnesota-specific model that estimates 3,000 to 5,000 ICU beds will be needed at the height of the peak of the outbreak, which is expected to hit Minnesota somewhere between the middle of May and the middle of July.
And Walz points out that ICU beds aren't the only metric to determine if Minnesota is prepared for a COVID surge, referencing the continued lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) for healthcare workers.
"I disagree that they were unilateral, but that's my opinion then," said Walz in response. "If the hospital association told me today, 'Governor, we got it. Send everybody back to work, we got plenty of PPE, we got plenty of doctors, we got plenty of beds, we got plenty of ventilators.' We would do it now. But not a single one of them is saying that."
"If they believe the Mayo Clinic's wrong, if they believe all nine of the healthcare associations are wrong , if they believe that the CDC is wrong, if they believe that the president's guidance from the administration is wrong, and if they believe 42 other states are wrong, then I value their opinion to say so but we can't go on a hunch," said Walz.
"I hope that I am as wrong as can be about the needs of those beds, but all of the data says I can't risk that at this time."
Minnesota's hospital capacity
According to the Minnesota Department of Health, the state has an immediate ICU bed capacity of 1,149, with 844 currently in use (63 by COVID-19 patients). But another 1,098 ICU beds could be ready within 24 hours, and another 525 within 72 hours for a maximum a capacity of 2,772.
So really, based on the numbers, Minnesota's healthcare system can only handle a maximum of 2,772 patients in ICU at any one time. That number is closer to 2,000 when subtracting the 781 ICU beds currently claimed by non-COVID-19 patients.
Another point of confusion is the continued publicizing of a University of Washington model that is predicting 60,000 deaths nationwide. But few outlets have taken the time to note the critically important fact that the University of Washington model is only estimating the number of deaths nationwide through Aug. 4.
The Minnesota model, meanwhile, is projecting anywhere from 6,000 to 36,000 deaths in Minnesota alone over the next 12-16 months, under the assumption that there will be multiple waves of outbreak during the pandemic.
"Our range actually said it could range anywhere from 6,000 to 36,000," said Walz. "And I think it needs to be reported, the University of Washington model only projects through August. Ours was projected through the length of this, basically the 12-16 months."
Also revealed on Thursday is that there have been 385,318 Minnesotans to have filed for unemployment benefits since March 16.
The occupations with the most people out of work since Walz took executive action to shut down bars, restaurants, and businesses of entertainment are as follows, according to the Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED).
- Food preparation and serving - 74,574 applicants
- Sales and service - 38,799
- Healthcare, including practitioners and support - 36,668
- Office administrative support - 28,785
- Production - 20,491
Walz continued to stress that he'll attempt to get more workers back on the job when it's safe to do so without putting Minnesota's hospitals at risk of being overwhelmed.
"You may be fine and you may have your free will and you going out may kill someone else's family. This is what we know about this disease," Walz warned. "Yes, I'm tired of this. I'm frustrated by this. My heart breaks for the people who are worried about their economic wellbeing. But you can't get frustrated, go on a hunch and throw caution to the wind and pretend like our neighbors' lives are somehow disposable."