• Fri. Aug 5th, 2022

Walz: National Guard on alert to support long-term care facility staff, new options for rapid testing

ByJulie J. Helfer

Oct 15, 2021

Friday’s announcement was amid cases in the state that continued to rise.

“The numbers we’re seeing are definitely concerning,” Kris Ehresmann, director of infectious diseases at the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH), said this week.

MDH reported that the weekly positivity rate soared to more than 8%, the highest since last year at this time before the vaccines were even rolled out; 10% is considered a high-risk category where widespread transmission of COVID-19 occurs.

Minnesota hospitals 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 in long-term care facilities but cannot due to lack of staff and beds.

Walz announced that he plans to do the following in response to these updates:

  • Putting the National Guard on alert to provide personnel support at long-term state facilities;
  • Expand access to the COVID-19 Emergency Staffing Pool, which allows long-term care facilities to request short-term emergency temporary staff if they experience a staffing shortage due to a outbreak of COVID-19 in their establishment; and
  • Order the Department of Human Services to free up capacity in the state’s long-term facilities.

“The rise in COVID-19 cases has left our hospitals overcrowded, and we need to act now,” Walz said. “That’s why I’m putting the National Guard on high alert and taking critical steps to help free up hospital beds and ensure Minnesotans can continue to receive the care they need.”

The governor made the announcement during a visit to North Memorial Health Hospital in Robbinsdale on Friday.

Free rapid tests will be available from next week on community sites in Stillwater, Hutchinson and Crookston, and at least three more sites will be added the following week. These sites will allow Minnesotans with symptoms of COVID-19 to take an antigen test and receive results within minutes. In addition to this, 16 local public health agencies across the state are rolling out rapid tests provided by MDH, some of which will be used in community testing clinics, while others will be used for targeted testing efforts. Participating agencies will announce their testing plans and appointment processes in the coming days.

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 action to help hospitals deal with an influx of cases of COVID-19 and other illnesses. Among those demands were the review of temporary waivers for healthcare professionals to address staffing shortages and the temporary reinstatement of waivers to the moratorium on hospital beds.

At this point, Walz said he was ready to call a special session, which he called again.

“We need to be back in special session, not just to take care of essential workers, which is absolutely essential,” Walz said. “We have to do these things that 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 don’t have the ability to move on these things anymore. We should have moved three weeks ago and we wouldn’t have so many people in the hospital today.”

For more information on how to get a free COVID-19 test, click here.