SAINT PAUL, Minn. – Today, the House Health Finance & Policy Committee received an update on COVID-19 from Dr. Michael Osterholm, world-renowned epidemiologist and Director of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy. The committee also discussed the important role of local public health in combating the pandemic and considered legislation to boost investments in local public health grants.
Dr. Osterholm shared several concerns regarding the virus with the committee, including the emergence of new COVID-19 variants that could mean the worst of the pandemic is still in front of us. Noting that the first doses of the vaccine has been greatly effective, he discussed the possibility of adapting to a first-dose priority plan for those ages 65 or older, postponing the second dose for those patients. He also stressed the importance of continued mask wearing, physical distancing and avoiding crowds, and discussed the need for individuals to protect their mental health.
“We’ve recently seen key COVID-19 metrics, including case counts and hospitalizations, trend downward, but as Dr. Osterholm told us, we aren’t out of the woods yet,” said Rep. Tina Liebling (DFL – Rochester), Chair of the Health Finance and Policy Committee. “As Minnesota continues vaccinating our residents, we must all remain vigilant against the virus – particularly as new variants emerge – to continue making progress and get through the pandemic as quickly as possible.”
The committee also discussed a proposal from Rep. Dan Wolgamott (DFL – St. Cloud) to invest $20 million each of the next two years in grants to local public health. The funding would help local communities address significant, ongoing public health needs including those caused by COVID-19. Local public health services have been especially critical during the pandemic, playing a key role in testing and vaccine distribution.
“The health and wellbeing of Minnesotans is something that needs to be addressed at all levels of government, especially at the local levels where communities look out for their neighbors,” said Rep. Wolgamott. “This investment in local public health services will better position communities across the state to address their specific needs and see us through this pandemic and beyond.”