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Minnesota might just be flattening that coronavirus curve

Associated Press

Associated Press

There are days when we feel like very little can get us through this wild, weird time, so hopefully this will help.

This quarantined, self-isolated thing we’re doing as a state? It's working.

The University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) has been modeling possible outcomes for the coronavirus outbreak in order to help policymakers and health professionals prepare. At this early stage, nothing is certain.

But current data show that Minnesota’s fatal cases have not been increasing at an exponential rate. We were up to 30 total deaths and just shy of 1,000 confirmed cases as of Monday afternoon.

This is accompanied by state data (reported by the Star Tribune) showing car and bus traffic has been falling every day since March 28—and GPS data mined by a creepy private company says we’re doing a great job staying put, too.

At this rate, the IHME model forecasts our total number of deaths at 932—still a tragic number, and more than six times the number of deaths we've seen this flu season, but far lower than our initial estimate of 2,000.

Stat-based think tank City Observatory has taken notice. Out of 53 major metropolitan areas in the United States, the Twin Cities region has been doing remarkably well.

“It arguably has managed (for whatever reason) to keep its incidence low and avoid rapid growth in the number of cases,” a report published Saturday said. “As we try to understand the factors that influence the spread of the virus, we might want to consider what distinguishes the Twin Cities from other American cities.”

And what might that be? City Observatory couldn’t resist joking that Minnesotans have supposedly been “perfecting the art of social distancing for decades.” More seriously, Minnesota ranks extremely high on measures of “social capital”—that is, the invisible network of trusted relationships that allow people to live and work together as a group.

People have tried to measure social capital from state to state. In 2018, the United States Joint Economic Committee released a Social Capital Index—a sort of map of the nation’s most healthy, prosperous, connected communities. Minnesota ranked second, just behind Utah and one spot ahead of Wisconsin. 

There are many ways to measure social capital. One is “philanthropic health”—how much residents give to one another. That’s where Utah stands out. Minnesota’s strongest suit happens to be “institutional health”—how confident we are in our government and infrastructure. This plays out in perennially high voter turnouts and relatively good census participation.

In short, Minnesotans are armored by a certain confidence that the system works, and that doing our part really does make things better. In the age of COVID-19, that’s an asset.

Of course, that’s just one factor of many that may be swaying the outcome. Others—like population density, median age, overall health, and government response—may also be putting their various thumbs on the scales. Unlike these other variables, we can control over where we go—and how often we go anywhere at all, if it means close encounters with other people—during the crucial weeks and months.