Walz discusses hospital capacity and expansion options for rapid COVID-19 testing


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

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

Hospitals in Minnesota 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 do so due to a lack of staff and beds.

The Governor will do the following in response to these updates:

  • Put the National Guard on high alert to provide personnel support at long-term state facilities;
  • Expand access to the COVID-19 emergency staff pool, which allows long-term care facilities to request short-term emergency temporary staff if they experience a staff shortage due to an outbreak of COVID-19 in their establishment; and
  • Request the Department of Social Services to free up capacity at long-term state facilities.

“The increase in COVID-19 cases has left our hospitals too overcrowded and we need to act now,” Walz said. “This is why I am putting the National Guard on alert and taking critical action to help free up hospital beds and ensure the 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 at 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 the results within minutes. In addition to this, 16 local public health agencies across the state are deploying 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 nomination processes in the coming days.

Walz’s announcement follows his remarks that lawmakers failed to do what he asked for earlier this month. On October 5, Walz sent a letter urging lawmakers to take action to help hospitals cope with an influx of cases of COVID-19 and other illnesses. Among these requests, it was to consider temporary exemptions for health professionals to address staff shortages and temporarily reinstate the exemptions from the moratorium on hospital beds.

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

“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 ask for. I want to be very clear. The list of things I sent to the Legislature was from long-term care facilities, hospitals, and school administrators. they were asking us to do. I don’t have the capacity to move on these things anymore. We should have moved three weeks ago and we wouldn’t have that many people in the hospital today.

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

Stay with 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS and KSTP.com for updates.


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