Yeah, We’re In The Best Of Hands

About a month or so ago, I wondered – why is the Minnesota Department of Health treating its “model” like the plans for a nuclear submarine?

One guess – because it was cobbled together over the weekend by a couple of graduate students.

Before Friday, March 20, Marina Kirkeide was a part-time research assistant at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health (SPH), working on human papillomavirus transmission for associate professor Shalini Kulasingam. On a gap year before starting medical school at the University in fall 2020, the College of Science and Engineering alumna also had a second job as a lab tech at St. Paul’s Regions Hospital.

That Friday, Kulasingam called her and two other research assistants to ask if anyone could “work through the day and night” to get a COVID-19 model to Minnesota Governor Tim Walz the following Monday. They all jumped at the chance.

“I don’t think a lot of researchers get to work on something over the weekend and have public figures talk about it and make decisions based on it three days later,” said Kirkeide, a four-year recipient of the Patrick F. Flynn Scholarship.

Oddly, no grad students in economics seem to have been similarly engaged.

Personally I’m less concerned that it was produced by grad students in a weekend.

I’m more concerned by who reviewed it, how, and via what standard. Because science is about questioning hypotheses. Who questioned this model? How?

More than that? I want to know why the Walz Administration treated this model like a state military secret for the past two months.

63 thoughts on “Yeah, We’re In The Best Of Hands

  1. Nerdbert, re: Imperial College

    Apparently, our experts were unhappy with the model from Imperial College, so they started over and created their own. Then they found a group at the University of Washington’s IHME producing identical results.

    Here is that model. Select your own state from the drop-down menu. They intend to keep it up-to-date as “facts on the ground” emerge.

    The Frequently Asked Questions are worth a read. For example:
    “Does this show the effect of social distancing and other measures?

    The model includes social distancing, and assumes continued social distancing until the end of May 2020. In states that do not currently have social distancing in place, we have assumed that they will put it in place within seven days. If they do not, then the estimates for the number of deaths and the burden on their hospital systems will reflect this and will go up.”

    I am not an expert, but it seems to me that widespread testing to enable contact tracing could affect these curves (cf. South Korea). As could a readily available treatment if it can keep people out of the hospital. But from where we are right now, today, these are probably the best projections you will find. And right or wrong, they are guiding policy decisions at the federal level.

  2. So, just to be clear, Emery, are you stating that number of covid-19 deaths inversely correlates with social distancing imposed by government decree?
    The great majority of covid-19 deaths occur in long term care facilities. The dead weren’t exactly folks who went to a lock of restaurants, hair salons, music festivals and pro sports events in March and April.
    “About 90% of the 3,700 people who have died from coronavirus in Sweden were over 70, and half were living in care homes, according to a study from Sweden’s National Board of Health and Welfare at the end of April.”
    Maybe you need to rethink your premise.

  3. My nephew lives in Norway, so I’ve followed this story closely. In Norway, life is returning to normal for Norwegians, but they won’t allow Americans to visit (with good reason when you look at the numbers). They think the Swedes are insane, but they always think that. The Swedes are sensible people. The verdict on Tignall’s strategy is still open, but Swedes, like Norwegians, have universal health care (Medicare for all) and are mostly healthy. In the US, the Swedish strategy, modified to account for obesity, Type 2 diabetes and other prevalent diseases, might have worked if we had competent leadership in the White House. We don’t. The chaos in this country is unforgivable and could have been avoided with adult leadership. That didn’t and is not happening.

  4. As usual, a non-response when your failed attempts at using reason are pointed out to you, Emery.
    This time coupled with anti-American slurs.
    And the Swedes pay for their generous social programs with very high taxes on the middle class. You might want to mention that to whoever the real Dem prez candidate will be this year.

  5. If testing is over-rated then why is Trump requiring White House staff to be tested daily and why is he being tested daily ?

    Let’s open the White House for tours again.

  6. That’s a stupid response, Emery.
    Go to your room and think about the bad thing that you wrote.

  7. I heard somewhere that if we stop testing there will be no new cases.

    Trump intentionally decided to avoid wide-spread testing to keep the numbers down, hoping to avoid a stock market crash. He was wrong, but now he can’t admit it. Unless there is a miracle, he is screwed, so he keeps digging a deeper hole.

    Trump’s base is clueless; that’s their superpower.

  8. “I heard somewhere that if we stop testing there will be no new cases.”
    I heard from Fauci that tying a raggedy bandana around your face prevents getting or spreading covid-19.
    People with common sense don’t believe such things.

  9. Luck, my friend is where opportunity meets preparation.

    The last time this level of ignorance pervaded the top of the power structure was 500 years ago when the Catholic church in Rome tried to muzzle Galileo and Copernicus. It is both the awesomeness and the awfulness of the ignorance that takes one’s breath away. One wonders what the shape of the coming Counter-Reformation will look like?

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  11. The last time this level of ignorance pervaded the top of the power structure was 500 years ago when the Catholic church in Rome tried to muzzle Galileo and Copernicus.


    If you’re going to use the controversy surrounding Galileo as a means of bolstering your fallacy-ridden arguments, at least have an understanding of the facts.

  12. “The last time this level of ignorance pervaded the top of the power structure was 500 years ago when the Catholic church in Rome tried to muzzle Galileo and Copernicus.”
    Oh, no, it was only as far back as Obama’s JD threatening to sue people who said that a man in a dress is a man in a dress, and not a woman.

  13. Speaking of ignorance in the power structure, we know the computer model was thrown together over the weekend by a couple of grad students. From the linked article:

    “One projection showed that cases would peak around April 26 in the state if there were no mitigating steps to slow the virus. The death toll in this scenario could reach 74,000. The other scenario showed a time frame with significant and staged mitigations in place that pushed the peak to about June 29 and projected deaths in the 50,000–55,000 range.”

    In other words, even with the strictest Stay Home order possible, the model says we’re only going to save 20,000 people while 50,000 die. Except deaths are presently in the 1,000 range and show no signs of surging. Either (a) the mitigation worked better than anyone ever imagined or (b) the model is wrong.

    There could be an Option (c) — projected deaths could mean “total, over the next ten years or so.” Of course, that’s not how it was sold to the public. Mitigation was sold as necessary to avoid 50,000 Minnesotans of all ages – from 6 months to 91 years – from dropping dead in their tracks.

    I suppose the U of M can say “Hey, we just made the model, we didn’t tell the Governor how to use it. It’s not our fault he twisted it for evil purposes.” But that goes directly to Emery’s point, doesn’t it. The people at the top – the best scientists in the state advising the Governor who has sole power to act on their advice – got it completely wrong.

    I wonder why they’re off so much? Could it be they overlooked a variable? Maybe all the prior models started with Day 1 on the first of December, so people stayed indoors where viral loads were higher and the virus peaked mid-February before burning itself out in the Spring. But our Day 1 started March 30 and we’re already in the Spring, when people go outdoors to decrease viral loads and enjoy virus-killing sunshine. Could it be as simple a mistake as that?

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