Gov. Tim Walz outlined his defense plan Wednesday against the latest wave of COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths. But many of the steps he's calling for are not under his control.
Some are in the federal government's hands, such as ramping up production of rapid test kits, which are critical, Walz and school officials said during a news conference Wednesday at Maplewood's Carver Elementary School. The governor also said he's hopeful the Pfizer vaccine will get emergency use authorization for children ages 5 to 11 in a matter of weeks.
Other moves Walz wants to deploy are up to the divided state Legislature, where Republicans are pushing back.
"I get it, you don't like this plan. What is yours? Doing nothing kills people," Walz said.
Walz sent a letter to lawmakers this week, calling for them to loosen state regulations to allow more hospital and nursing home capacity and make it easier for medical providers from outside Minnesota to help fill staffing shortages. He urged them to consider vaccine and testing requirements for teachers, school staff and workers in long-term care facilities.
Until July 1, the state was under a peacetime emergency and Walz used executive powers to make such decisions without legislators signing off. But even if lawmakers agreed to the vaccination and testing requirements he is suggesting, Minnesotans would have to comply with the rules for them to be effective.
On Wednesday, 40 COVID-19 deaths were reported in Minnesota.
"We now have a vaccine that's almost foolproof in preventing death. So when I hear 40 deaths every day — the vaccine, the vaccine, the vaccine," Walz said.
Shortly before the DFL governor made his case at the elementary school, state senators held a virtual hearing where people raised concerns about Minnesota's vaccination and testing regulations for state agency employees and President Joe Biden's not-yet-enacted vaccination rules for certain health care facilities, large private employers and federal employees.
Abbey Tiemann, who has worked as a certified nursing assistant in a long-term care facility for about 13 years, told senators that her facility has a 40 to 45% vaccination rate for staff. She opposes Biden's plan that applies to workers at health facilities receiving Medicare or Medicaid payments.
"We've come to the point where no one else is willing to take that vaccine. I'm one of them. I, along with many of that 55% of the staff, we're willing to walk away from our job, potentially health care entirely," she said.
Senate Human Services Reform Committee Chairman Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, urged Tiemann and others to contact Walz and Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm and share their concerns.
In Walz's letter to legislators the day before, he wrote, "Minnesota can and should lead by expeditiously implementing these components of President Biden's announcement regarding vaccine requirements." Senate Majority Leader Jeremy Miller, R-Winona, countered that Walz's "growing list of requests" is not productive as leaders try to reach an agreement on bonus pay for front-line workers.
The GOP-led human services reform committee also heard Wednesday from people who are upset about the Minnesota government's requirement that state agency staff who are doing in-person work must show proof of vaccination or get weekly COVID testing. Abeler said the state is not respecting individuals' decisions about the vaccine.
Across state agencies, 523 workers have not provided proof of vaccination or consented to testing, including seasonal employees who aren't currently working, said Kristin Batson, Minnesota Management and Budget deputy commissioner. She said the vast majority of people have followed the rules and compliance is increasing.
"This is the best way to ensure that our employees and the people we serve remain safe," Batson told senators. "COVID-19 vaccines are safe and minimize the risk of serious illness, hospitalization and death from COVID-19."
Jessie Van Berkel • 651-925-5044