SAINT PAUL, Minn. – Thursday, the House Health Finance and Policy Committee held a remote hearing to discuss COVID-19’s status in Minnesota, including the Omicron variant and the pandemic’s impact on health care. Omicron is highly infectious, doubling every day-and-a-half to three days and as a result, health care system capacity continues to face pressure. Statewide test positivity is currently at 19.8%, the highest ever reported during the pandemic.
“COVID-19 is continuing to wreak havoc all over the world, and we’re facing a health care crisis here in Minnesota. All of us have been impacted by the pandemic to one degree or another, but the physicians, nurses, and other health care workers are facing a serious burden and experiencing this in a very different way than the rest of us,” said Rep. Tina Liebling (DFL – Rochester), the committee chair. “I’m grateful to those serving on the frontlines of this pandemic for sharing their powerful stories with us today, all of which highlight the urgency for us to come together to fight this pandemic.”
Commissioner Jan Malcolm of the Minnesota Department of Health updated committee members on developments regarding the Omicron variant. Even with the reduced severity of illness, Commissioner Malcolm noted the widespread community transmission and projections of hospitalizations to continue increasing. Illnesses among health care workers and families, along with childcare and school closures, are further exacerbating already strained staffing. She also noted the strong effectiveness of the vaccine against serious illness and hospitalization, especially when given a booster shot, and encouraged other layered mitigation strategies including wearing high-quality masks, social distancing, avoiding large crowds, and hand washing.
The committee also heard from several health care workers about the pandemic’s impact on health care in the state, including those in emergency rooms and intensive care units. Those providing testimony regarding their challenges and sharing their stories from the frontlines included: Dr. Randy Rice, a Moose Lake family physician and President of the Minnesota Medical Association; Rachel Hanneman, a registered nurse; Dr. Craig Daniels, pulmonologist and critical care specialist at Mayo Clinic, Vice Chair of Mayo’s Hospital Practice Subcommittee and Deputy Head of the Rochester hospital; Kelley Anaas, medical ICU nurse; Dr. Carolyn McClain, emergency room physician; and Mary Turner, ICU nurse and President of the Minnesota Nurses Association.
Video of the hearing will be available on Minnesota House Public Information Services’ YouTube channel. More information, including documents from the hearing, are available on the committee’s webpage.