Minnesota to ensure workers comp to responders with COVID-19

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The Minnesota Legislature will reconvene Tuesday to pass a bill that would ensure first responders and health care workers who are infected with the coronavirus qualify for workers compensation without having to prove they were sickened on the job.

Minnesota’s count of confirmed cases rose to 986 on Monday, up 51 from Sunday. The number of deaths attributed to COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, rose by one to 30. Of the positive cases, 470 no longer need to be isolated. As of Monday, 115 patients were hospitalized, up 11 from Sunday, with 57 in intensive care, up nine from a day earlier.

Legislative leaders announced the agreement on workers compensation late Sunday night. The new rules will protect a wide range of emergency and health care workers, including police officers, firefighters, paramedics, emergency medical technicians, correctional officers, nurses, home health care workers, and people who provide child care for the offspring of first responders and health care workers.

"We hope it’s not needed, but it is vitally important for these heroes on the front lines to know that this policy is in place to help protect their health and safety during this difficult and uncertain time," Republican Senate President Jeremy Miller, who helped broker the agreement, said in a statement.

According to Miller, those workers will be entitled to wages and benefits while they’re home sick.

“Most importantly it covers any medical or other healthcare costs that might be associated with testing positive for COVID-19,” Miller said.

Full COVID-19 Coverage

“This is something that is wonderful,” said LaTanya Hughes, a home care worker. “I’m thankful, I am so thankful.”

She works with those who have disabilities or health issues, including older adults.

“I honestly think by us helping them stay in their homes, it keeps them out of the hospitals,” she said.

There’s a risk with every visit, so Hughes welcomes the legislation.

“It’s something that’s needed, especially in the home care field because it’s mainly women of color and family members, and we’ve been left out of a lot of things,” she said.

The House will convene at noon Tuesday while the Senate will meet at 2 p.m. to pass the bill.

"We’re in dangerous and unprecedented times," said Rep. Dan Wolgamott. "We need to get this passed as soon as possible."

Rep. Wolgamott started working on the legislation weeks ago, talking with firefighters.

“It’s stressful enough being in that line of work, it’s stressful enough contracting COVID-19 and what that means for you, your career, your family,” he said. “You shouldn’t have to go through all of these hoops to somehow prove you got it while you were on the job.”

The final version covers a wide range of frontline workers.

“Every day they’re going out and making sure we are safe, and making sure we are healthy, making sure that our children are cared for and they are putting their physical health at risk, they shouldn’t be putting their financial health at risk,” he said.

To be eligible, an employee must be diagnosed with COVID-19 either through a lab test or by their doctor and provide documentation.

“The employer has a chance to, if they know you did not get it when you were on the job, they can challenge it,” said Rep. Wolgamott.

When lawmakers vote on Tuesday, they’ll use some of the same social distancing rules they used when they met March 26 to pass a $330 million COVID-19 relief package.

Lawmakers were unable to reach agreement on the workers compensation issue in time to pass it then. Some objected because the changes had not been vetted and agreed on by an official business-labor council that reviews changes to workers comp laws. Republican Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka tweeted last week that council members were "working around the clock to come to a resolution."

Democratic Gov. Tim Walz heralded the legislation.

"I’m proud of the tireless, bipartisan collaboration between the legislature, business and labor that went into getting this to the finish line," Walz tweeted Monday. "Our front-line employees are fighting nonstop to keep Minnesotans safe — if they get sick on the job, we need to be there for them."

The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people, but for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death.