Walz activating National Guard to help with COVID response | www.WDIO.com

Walz activating National Guard to help with COVID response

Updated: October 15, 2021 09:29 PM
Created: October 15, 2021 10:27 AM

Gov. Tim Walz is activating the Minnesota National Guard to launch new COVID-19 testing sites and putting the Guard on alert that it may have to provide staffing support at long-term care facilities.

Staffing and bed shortages at long-term care facilities are being blamed for keeping more patients in hospitals, leading to a shortage of hospital beds as new cases of COVID-19 remain high in the state.

"Across the state of Minnesota, we have over 400 patients who should be somewhere else are in hospital beds taking up the space that is needed for the next group of folks comes in," Walz said.

He announced Friday he will expand access to the COVID-19 Emergency Staffing Pool, which provides short-term emergency staffing to long-term care facilities.

"These folks need respite care. They're at a breaking point. They can't go anymore," Gov. Walz said.

Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said she hopes Minnesota will see a plateau in cases and hospitalizations soon, but right now there are no signs of it. 

"I know everybody wants to be done with this," she said. "But we are truly back in a critical point, and we all need to double down to take action on this."

The governor also announced that 16 local public health agencies across the state will begin offering rapid testing opportunities. At least six new community testing sites offering free rapid antigen testing will be set up in the next two weeks.

The Guard will set up test sites next week in Stillwater, Hutchinson, and Crookston and the following week at three yet-to-be-announced locations.

75 soldiers and airmen will support the COVID-19 response starting Monday, broken into seven teams to assist civil authorities. The Guard said work will include facility management, performing administrative tasks, and administering tests.

The Guard mobilized nearly 970 service members to support the state's health emergency plan in the first 18 months of hte pandemic.

The governor's full news release:

Governor Tim Walz announced a comprehensive COVID-19 action plan to relieve Minnesota’s increasingly crowded hospitals and provide new rapid testing opportunities for Minnesota families. 

Hospital administrators report that many of their beds are occupied by Minnesotans who should be treated at long-term care facilities, but cannot due to staffing and bed shortages.

Walz took these steps on Friday:

•    Putting the National Guard on alert to provide staffing support at Minnesota’s long-term care facilities;
•    Expanding 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
•    Directing the Department of Human Services to free up capacity at state long-term care facilities.

“Rising COVID-19 cases have left our hospitals too crowded, and we need action now,” said Governor 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.” 

Governor Walz is also announcing steps to expand rapid COVID-19 testing opportunities to help Minnesotans find free, accessible, and quick testing resources in their communities.  

First, the Governor is activating the National Guard to help stand up a new Community Rapid Testing Program, launching free rapid testing next week at community sites in Stillwater, Hutchinson, and Crookston, and at least three additional sites 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. 

The administration will also offer rapid tests at some of the existing Community Testing Program locations around Minnesota.

Additional details about the new rapid testing options will be available early next week.

“Minnesotans are working hard to navigate daycare, school, and work — and they need the reassurance and ease of rapid testing to keep their lives on track,” said Governor Walz. “To help Minnesotans get the speedy test results they need, we are taking action to expand our free and successful community testing network with rapid testing sites.”

“With school in full swing and more activities moving inside due to colder weather, testing remains vital to protecting our children and families from COVID-19,” said Minnesota Commissioner of Health Jan Malcolm. “By launching this community rapid testing program, we have further expanded our robust, collaborative testing network to provide even more free opportunities for families across the state. In addition to getting vaccinated, masking indoors, and staying home when sick, we know testing can help us slow the spread of the COVID-19 and limit its negative impacts in our communities.”

Second, Governor Walz announced additional COVID-19 rapid testing opportunities in partnership with local public health (LPH) agencies around the state. Sixteen local public health agencies across the state are deploying rapid tests provided by the Minnesota Department of Health, 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. 

“Testing for COVID-19 helps keep our kids safe in the classroom and workers protected on the job,” said Lieutenant Governor Flanagan. “Our local public health professionals are experts at meeting their communities where they are, and that’s why we have partnered with agencies across Minnesota to get more rapid tests to Minnesotans who need them.” 

“As our local communities experience a surge of cases, we are working very closely with our local health care providers to fill gaps and ensure our communities have access to COVID-19 testing and vaccinations,” said Chera Sevcik, Executive Director & Community Health Services Administrator at Human Services of Faribault & Martin Counties. “Our ability to provide testing each week helps free up crucial resources with our local health care providers so they can focus their efforts on treating patients.”

The Walz-Flanagan administration has steadily expanded testing capacity throughout Minnesota to meet increasing demand for COVID-19 tests. 

To tackle the Delta variant, the state has opened new community sites in Bloomington, Lino Lakes, Minneapolis, Saint Paul, and Morris since August. The state has added weekend testing and doubled capacity at the Duluth community testing site. Additionally, the state added Friday testing at the state sites in Mankato and St. Cloud, and Sunday testing at the Moorhead and Winona sites. 

The state continues to assess current and projected testing needs and will continue to execute its comprehensive approach to ensure every Minnesotan has access to free testing to keep their families and communities safe.

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