Walz: National Guard on alert to support staff at long-term care facilities, new options for rapid testing
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Gov. Tim Walz announced new actions to address hospital capacity and new, expanded options for COVID-19 rapid testing.
The announcement Friday was in the midst of cases in the state continuing to rise.
"The numbers that we are seeing are definitely concerning," Kris Ehresmann, the director of infectious disease with the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH), said this week.
MDH reported the weekly positivity rate has jumped up to over 8%, the highest it’s been since last year at this time before vaccines even rolled out; 10% is considered a high-risk category where widespread COVID-19 transmission is happening.
Hospitals around Minnesota are reinstating COVID-19 visiting protocols that were in place last year as beds and intensive care units fill up. Hospital administrators report that many of their beds are occupied by Minnesotans who should be treated at long-term care facilities but can’t due to staffing and bed shortages.
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Walz announced he plans to do the following in response to these updates:
- Put the National Guard on alert to provide staffing support at the state’s long-term facilities;
- Expand access to the COVID-19 Emergency Staffing Pool, which allows long-term care facilities to request short-term emergency temporary staffing if they’re experiencing a staffing shortage due to an outbreak of COVID-19 at their facility; and
- Direct the Department of Human Services to free up capacity at state long-term facilities.
"Rising COVID-19 cases have left our hospitals too crowded, and we need action now," said Walz. "That’s why I’m putting the National Guard on alert and taking critical steps to help free up hospital beds and make sure that Minnesotans can continue to get the care they need."
The governor made the announcement during a visit to North Memorial Health Hospital in Robbinsdale on Friday.
Free rapid testing will be available starting next week at community sites in Stillwater, Hutchinson and Crookston, and at least three additional sites will be added the following week. These sites will allow Minnesotans experiencing COVID-19 symptoms to take an antigen test and receive results in a matter of minutes. In addition to that, 16 local public health agencies across the state are deploying rapid tests provided by MDH, some of which will be used at community testing clinics, while others will be used for targeted testing efforts. Participating agencies will announce their testing plans and appointments processes in the days to come.
Walz’s announcement follows his remarks that lawmakers have not done what he asked for earlier this month. On Oct. 5, Walz sent a letter urging lawmakers to take steps to help hospitals dealing with an influx of COVID-19 cases and other illnesses. Among those requests were considering temporary waivers for medical professionals to address staffing shortages and temporarily reinstating hospital bed moratorium waivers.
At that time, Walz said he was ready to call a special session, something he has pitched again.
"We need to be back in special session not just to take care of essential workers, which is absolutely critical," Walz said. "We need to do these things the hospitals are asking for. I want to be very clear. The list of things I sent to the legislature came from long-term care facilities, hospitals and school administrators. Things they were asking us to do. I no longer possess the ability to move on those things. We should have moved three weeks ago and we wouldn’t have as many people in the hospital today."
For more information on how to get a free COVID-19 test, click here.
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