The judges get briefings on COVID-19 several times per week, and I cannot overemphasize just how bad the numbers are looking right now, both nationally and locally. As of December 2, we have lost nearly 3,700 people in Minnesota to COVID-19, with an estimated 37,000 active cases out of the 327,000 confirmed cases since the pandemic began. St. Louis County alone is approaching 10,000 positive tests, ranking us 7th in the state. The current surge in cases is rapidly filling hospital capacity throughout Northeastern Minnesota. In the United States, COVID-19 has now killed more than 270,000 people. That is nearly 100 times the number of dead from the September 11 attacks.
I personally have had to cancel multiple jury trials because attorneys and witnesses were sick or in quarantine due to exposure. Many jurors are seeking excusals, concerned for their safety even with all the precautions we take at the courthouse. There is just no easy way to put 25 people in a room for a couple days without some element of risk, and that risk has been increasing as the numbers grow. For that reason, our Chief Justice again made the difficult decision to shut down jury trials statewide until the end of January, absent exceptional circumstances. We all know this is going to worsen the backlog of cases, but there was no realistic alternative. Even though the courts are still running, and we are doing the best we can holding hearings via Zoom, the road ahead is rough.
Unfortunately, too many people are living in denial. They believe internet rumors and wild conspiracy theories suggesting COVID-19 effects are exaggerated or even fabricated. They believe wearing a facemask is a sign of weakness or infringes on their personal liberty. They accuse government officials who implement safety measures of tyranny. They think safeguards against COVID-19 should be a personal choice.
The problem with this thinking is that viruses do not work that way. The primary benefit of a facemask is not protecting you from getting the virus; it is keeping you from transmitting it to someone else. Refusing to wear one, by definition, is a selfish choice, and it only helps the virus spread. After 9/11, we all accepted that it would take longer to get through airport security in order to make travel safer. With COVID-19, we now have to make some real changes in our behavior to keep the virus from spiraling out of control. And those changes do not work if only some people make them; we all have to be on board.
If you are one of the people who still — somehow — doesn’t believe this virus is a real threat, please re-evaluate where you get your information. This is not “just the flu,” and the Midwest is now the hot spot. It is absolutely crucial that we all wear masks, listen to the experts, and do everything we can to avoid unnecessary exposure and spread. I know how hard some of these changes can be. But if people don’t take this seriously, and right now, we are going to lose hundreds of thousands of lives unnecessarily and potentially have millions more with long-term health issues. We are running out of time to rise above the disinformation and get everyone on the same page. The sooner we take this seriously, the sooner we can get back to normal. And that is what everyone really wants.