REGIONAL- Bereft of the emergency powers he once had to take actions to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, Gov. Tim Walz is imploring legislators to agree on a slate of actions to stem the growing tide of …
REGIONAL- Bereft of the emergency powers he once had to take actions to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, Gov. Tim Walz is imploring legislators to agree on a slate of actions to stem the growing tide of new cases that threaten to overwhelm portions of the health care sector.
Walz’s plea, issued in a two-page letter on Tuesday after meetings with lawmakers, calls for regulatory relief for hospitals and nursing homes to more effectively respond to the fourth wave of the pandemic sweeping the state, as well as ongoing financial assistance and staffing flexibility for childcare providers.
New supports and requirements that would be consistent for all schools are also a priority for Walz, including vaccine and testing requirements for all school staff, parental notification procedures, and participation in testing and masking.
“The pandemic continues to threaten public health, especially among Minnesotans who cannot yet get vaccinated. The Legislature needs to address a number of issues to keep our students, teachers, families, workers, and communities safe,” said Walz. “I urge them to move quickly to keep our kids in school and to allow our hospitals, nursing homes, and childcare facilities to effectively respond to the virus.”
Also on Walz’s agenda is reaching resolution on the issue of $250 million that has been allocated for frontline worker bonus pay, a matter of partisan divide in the Frontline Worker Pay Working Group over who should qualify for payments. The group was supposed to submit its recommendations by Sept. 6.
Republicans reinforced their proposal last Thursday for a more limited pool of nurses, long-term care workers, hospice staff, first responders, and corrections officers to receive bonus pay. About 200,000 people would receive checks for $1,200.
“We’ve said from the beginning, these bonuses need to be an amount that is meaningful, prioritized for those who took the most risk, and recognizes the workers who kept us safe,” working group co-chair Sen. Karin Housley, R-Stillwater, said.
DFL representatives want to include about 400,000 more workers in the bonus pay pool, including such groups as grocery workers, janitorial staff, childcare workers, meatpacking plant workers, and others. With a fixed total of $250 million, payments would be reduced to $375 for each of the 600,000 workers eligible under the DFL proposal. This plan has garnered support from numerous organizations representing frontline workers, including the Minnesota Licensed Practical Nurse Association.
“Excluding any frontline workers is a slap in the face to someone who put their life at risk for our communities,” MLPNA President Deb Tauer said in a written statement. “It was the sacrifices of all frontline workers that gave us the ability to show up and care for our communities.”
Walz is unlikely to call a special legislative session without an agreement on this issue, and comments made Tuesday by the Senate’s ranking Republican, Jeremy Miller, of Winona, weren’t encouraging.
“The growing list of requests from Governor Walz is not productive towards ensuring these dedicated workers receive their bonus pay in a timely manner,” Miller said. “They took the biggest risk and kept us safe during the pandemic, and they deserve meaningful bonus checks.”
A third item Walz wants the legislature to address is drought relief.
The Governor’s requests are playing out against a pandemic landscape that is perhaps the worst the state has seen this year.
More than half of the state’s hospitals with intensive care units are reporting they are over 95 percent full. Only 49 ICU beds out of 1,161 were available as of this week.
Non-ICU beds are also nearing capacity, with about 500 vacancies out of 7,325 beds.
The Minnesota Department of Health reported more than 10,000 new cases of COVID-19 from Thursday through Sunday, and the test positivity rate is at 8.4, up from 6 just four weeks ago.
State health officials said last week that they don’t yet see an end to the surge in sight, and that observation is amplified by new data showing the Midwest now has the highest average case numbers in the country, 38 per 100,000. This reflects a trend seen in prior waves where COVID cases in other regions started to decline while those in the Midwest peaked weeks later.
New coronavirus cases continue to flourish in the state’s schools, with 1,063 buildings having at least one case in the most recent data. About 600 of those reports include multiple cases in a building.
Orr remained the regional hotspot among the zip code areas tracked by the Timberjay last week, with 18 new cases reported by the state. An increase of 36 cases in just the past two weeks represents a 30-percent increase over the cumulative total for the entire pandemic in the Orr area, based on the number of total cases reported as of Sept. 16.
Tower also hit double-digits with ten new cases. Cook had nine new cases, Ely had six, and Soudan and Embarrass each tallied three.
The seven-day rolling average of new COVID cases in St. Louis County hit 109 on Oct. 1, more than six times higher than it was on Aug. 1, and almost double what it was on Sept. 12.
The biweekly case rate for the northern portion of St. Louis County, including the North Country, is 67.5, and is projected to be over 80 for Thursday’s weekly update. The only time during the pandemic that the biweekly case rate was higher was during the height of the massive November/December 2020 spike.
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