Human management

Score Minnesota on handling COVID

Review Editor’s Note: Editorials represent the views of the Star Tribune Editorial Board, which operates independently of the newsroom.


The emergence of highly transmissible variants of COVID-19 makes it increasingly difficult to answer this question: when will the pandemic be over?

But more than two years after the virus made landfall in the United States, there is enough data to assess how well Minnesota has so far managed a historic public health crisis. A review of key measures is timely and necessary. It also sets a solid foundation for the debate that will take place in the upcoming fall election about the state’s COVID history.

So how did Minnesota do it?

The answer requires the assessment of a large and changing set of indicators. Nevertheless, the starting point should be the extent to which the state has protected people from death. And the critical metric is the COVID death rate.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has monitoring this as of January 21, 2020 and provides comparison data with other states. Minnesota’s rate during this period is 228 deaths per 100,000 population. This is well below the overall death rate of 300 in the United States. Only 10 states beat Minnesota, with Vermont and Hawaii recording the lowest rates of 99 and 101, respectively.

Regionally, Minnesota outperformed all bordering states. Wisconsin has recorded 249 deaths per 100,000, with North Dakota recording 298. Iowa and South Dakota both topped the national average, with 303 and 329 deaths, respectively.

Other key health parameters should also be highlighted:

  • Case : Minnesota COVID case rate is in the middle of the pack of 50 states, with 26,428 per 100,000 population. Rhode Island, Alaska and North Dakota had the highest rates. Maryland, Oregon and Hawaii had the lowest rates. Regionally, Iowa had the lowest case rate, with Minnesota having the second-lowest among the four bordering states.
  • Vaccines: Minnesota’s percentage of people ages 5 and older who are fully immunized ranks 16th nationally. (Snapshots are not yet available for young children). The state’s 73.9% leads the region. Minnesota also ranks second among all states for the percentage of the fully immunized population ages 12 and older who received a first booster. And Minnesota currently ranks fourth nationally in the percentage of people over 65 who have received a second booster dose.
  • Trial: The state ranks seventh nationally. Minnesota also significantly outpaced its regional neighbors, likely reflecting the widely available free testing options in that state.

While those interested in Minnesota’s exceptionalism are likely disappointed that the state hasn’t exceeded all metrics, its overall COVID health metrics are strong nationally and impressive regionally.

Yet the economic cost of pandemic mitigation efforts must be considered. Business owners have heroically navigated the uncertainties of the pandemic as well as masking, capacity limits and other mitigation measures. Frustrations have often outstripped the ability of federal and state aid to mitigate the impact.

But two crucial high-altitude data points suggest Minnesota has economically kept pace with neighbors that eased mitigation measures earlier.

  • Unemployment rate: Minnesota’s rate of 2.2% in April was the lowest in the state since tracking began in 1976 and even healthier than the US rate of 3.6%. South Dakota, which had much looser COVID restrictions, was at 2.3%, with Iowa at 3%, and North Dakota and Wisconsin at 2.8%.
  • GDP growth: All States given the increases real gross domestic product (GDP) growth from 2020 to 2021, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. Minnesota’s 5.7% increase ranked 18th nationally and topped that of Wisconsin and the Dakotas. Iowa led regionally with 6.4%.

The Star Tribune editorial board is not the first to assess Minnesota’s handling of the pandemic. Politico got into it late last year, rating Reports on health, economic, educational and social responses. Minnesota also performed well in this analysis — with its average score ranked fifth nationally — and the report’s authors cited its balanced approach.

Managing COVID will be a top issue in the fall election. Those who attack the state’s record — or defend it — should make their case with evidence, not just rhetoric.

Members of the editorial board are David Banks, Jill Burcum, Scott Gillespie, Denise Johnson, Patricia Lopez, John Rash and DJ Tice. Star Tribune Opinion staff Maggie Kelly and Elena Neuzil also contribute, and Star Tribune editor and CEO Michael J. Klingensmith serves as an advisor to the board.