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Some worry about staff shortages as Minnesota prepares for federal vaccine mandate

Republican lawmakers and business groups voiced concerns about the policy on Thursday and asked for exceptions for certain groups.

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Photo: Unsplash/Fusion Medical Animation
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ST. PAUL — Following news on Thursday that a federal vaccine or testing mandate would take effect on Jan. 4, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz said the state was beginning to work with businesses with 100 or more employees to make sure they understood the policy.

Walz anticipated that more information would become available as Minnesota OSHA and Minnesota Management and budget got additional guidance from the Biden Administration.

The federal mandate, announced in September, will require businesses with 100 or more employees to enforce COVID-19 vaccination or weekly testing for employees. The penalty for noncompliance would be $14,000 per violation.

Minnesota has in place a similar policy for state workers that requires proof of COVID-19 vaccination or regular testing. So far, the bulk of state employees have complied with the rule for working in person.

“There will be more talks about this," Walz said Thursday, Nov. 3. "For much of it, it mirrors what we are doing in state government. The good news in that is that we’re well above 90% of folks done and it’s a little harder with some of our remote agencies that are out a little further."

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Republican lawmakers and business groups voiced concerns about the policy on Thursday and asked for exceptions for certain groups. Reps. Barb Haley, R-Red Wing, and Kristin Robbins, R-Maple Grove, urged a federal exemption for truckers after the American Trucking Association said 37% of its workforce could resign, retire or seek employment elsewhere because of the rule.

"At a time when our country is facing ongoing supply chain issues, we cannot risk losing workers,” Haley said. “Truckers play a critical role in agriculture, food, logging, manufacturing, retail, energy, and other industries. Now is not the time to put further stress on the supply chain.”

Minnesota's two largest long-term care associations on Thursday said they were hopeful that the mandate would nudge those hesitant about the vaccine to get a shot. But they worried too that the requirement could spur additional staff shortages in a workforce short by 23,000 around the state. "This is a potential powder keg with a short fuse," the Long-Term Care Imperative said in a news release.

Vaccines in schools

Walz also highlighted the state’s in-school pediatric vaccination efforts Thursday at a news conference outside a school in Brooklyn Center with Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm and education department head Heather Mueller.

More than 500,000 5 to 11-year-olds in Minnesota are now eligible for the pediatric vaccine following federal emergency approval, and the state has mobilized 1,100 providers to ensure children have access.

More than 170,000 doses will be available in the state by next week, and 80,000 doses from federal pharmacy partners will arrive by the weekend, health department Assistant Commissioner Joanna Dornfeld told the Minnesota House Health Committee at a Thursday afternoon hearing.

The state health department's objective is to have 80% of Minnesota children vaccinated within six months of emergency use authorization and to make sure the vaccine is distributed equitably. The Walz administration says partnerships with school districts in "high-need areas" are important for accomplishing that goal.

At the news conference, Mueller said the school vaccination program will be especially helpful in communities more than a 30-minute drive from a pharmacy.

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It's not yet entirely clear where all the school clinics will be held, but St. Paul Public Schools announced it would host clinics at two elementary schools next week. The Walz administration said Wednesday it had 15 school clinics planned in the next three weeks.

Children are at a lower risk than adults of severe illness from coronavirus, but can still develop serious symptoms, according to the CDC.

Much like adults, children with conditions like asthma or obesity are more likely to become seriously ill. In rare cases, some develop multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS-C), a serious and potentially deadly condition. Children are also capable of spreading the virus.

The pediatric Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is one-third the size of a dose for people 12 and older. It's packaged differently than the standard vaccine, so parents seeking immunization for younger children must go to a location that has the pediatric version of the shot. Children must also get two doses of vaccine 21 days apart.

Minnesota has launched a new webpage for parents seeking information on vaccines for children: https://mn.gov/covid19/vaccine/vaxforkids/ .

Following are the Minnesota Department of Health COVID-19 case rates, deaths, hospitalizations and vaccinations as of Thursday, Nov. 4. Because all data is preliminary, some numbers and totals may change from one day to the next.

Statewide case rates

  • NEW CASES: 3,718
  • SEVEN-DAY, ROLLING AVERAGE OF NEW CASES PER 100,000 PEOPLE: 39.5 (as of 10/22)

  • TOTAL CASES, INCLUDING REINFECTIONS: 811,654
  • TOTAL REINFECTIONS: 8,486
  • SEVEN-DAY, ROLLING AVERAGE TEST POSITIVITY RATE: 7.3 (as of 10/22)

Beginning Nov. 1, the MDH has begun to report "reinfections." In keeping with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention terminology, this denotes cases in which a person tests positive more than 90 days after a previous positive test.

Hospitalizations, deaths

  • ACTIVE HOSPITALIZATIONS: 1,021

  • TOTAL HOSPITALIZATIONS: 41,931

  • DEATHS, NEWLY REPORTED: 32

  • TOTAL DEATHS: 8,793

Vaccinations

  • FIRST DOSE ADMINISTERED: 3,478,914

  • COMPLETED SERIES (2 doses): 3,326,854

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Dana Ferguson is a Minnesota Capitol Correspondent for Forum News Service. Ferguson has covered state government and political stories since she joined the news service in 2018, reporting on the state's response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the divided Statehouse and the 2020 election.
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