SAINT PAUL – Today, the Minnesota Ways and Means Committee approved legislation appropriating $300 million to establish a contact tracing, case investigation, and follow-up program for COVID-19 cases. The bill, authored by Rep. Tina Liebling (DFL – Rochester), the House Health and Human Services Finance Division chair, represents the next phase of Minnesota’s public health response to the pandemic.
“The new testing partnership with Mayo Clinic and other providers is moving forward. Now we need the ability to effectively follow-up on the testing by finding people exposed to the virus and helping them avoid spreading the virus,” Rep. Liebling said. “Contact tracing is a key strategy to get our state back on track and move toward reopening our economy as quickly as possible.”
The program will aim to accurately and efficiently identify people who may have contracted COVID-19 and allow them to be isolated until the risk of contagion has passed. The Minnesota Department of Health will manage the program, but may hire other organizations to hire, train, and manage up to 4,200 temporary employees who could be needed. Hires could include furloughed health care workers, public health students, retirees, and volunteers.
Under the legislation, employers cannot prohibit employees from performing contact tracing activities for hire under the program, so long as doing the work doesn’t violate the employee’s collective bargaining agreement. The bill also prohibits employers from terminating or retaliating against employees who perform contact tracing, case investigation, and follow-up activities.
The legislation allows funding to be used for additional IT services, interpreter services, community outreach, and personal protective equipment (PPE) for staff and volunteers. The program is funded by the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
The legislation’s next stop is the House Floor for approval. Video of the hearing is available on House Public Information Services’ YouTube Channel and supporting documents can be accessed on the committee webpage.