Hello friends and neighbors,
I hope you have all been able to get outside and enjoy the mild weather and sunshine that we’ve had. The nice weather certainly helps get the Christmas lights up!
It has been a busy and productive two weeks: announcement of vaccines, efforts to re-open gyms, and bi-partisan work on a business relief package. Here are some highlights.
It is encouraging news that coronavirus vaccines have been developed, approved, and will soon be distributed across America. This week, Governor Walz and the Minnesota Department of Health discussed how the first round of those vaccinations will be distributed in Minnesota.
Minnesota is expected to receive 183,400 doses of COVID-19 vaccines before the end of the year. Those who will have the first opportunity to receive a vaccine include health care workers and our most vulnerable residents, especially those living in nursing homes. Those same people will get their second dose 21 or 28 days later, depending on whether the person received a vaccine developed by Pfizer or Moderna.
The second priority group includes medical and long-term care personnel who work with patients not included in the first group, dialysis center personnel, and assisted living residents.
Later phases will prioritize essential workers, high-risk adults with medical conditions, and those over the age of 65.
To be clear: no one will be mandated or ordered to take the vaccine. That decision will be made by you and you alone.
By prioritizing those who are most at risk of serious problems from contracting the coronavirus, as well as those who take care of them, the goal is to maximize immediate health benefits, reduce deaths, and hopefully minimize the harm caused by COVID-19.
We are not out of the woods yet, but the fact that vaccines are being approved and distributed means we are making great strides towards defeating the coronavirus.
Many Minnesotans have written to us about the Governor’s most recent Executive Order (EO 20-99) that closed down gyms, restaurants and limited public gatherings.
While I share a common goal of keeping community members safe and slowing the spread of the pandemic, the data does not support keeping these facilities closed. In my efforts to work with the Minnesota Department of Health and the Governor’s Office, I researched the data (from MDH) about the incidences of COVID cases traced back to visits to a health and fitness center. Consider –
*Across 35 YMCA locations since reopening in June there have been just 30 cases traced back to a YMCA out of 1,465,118 visits – a rate of .002%
*At the time of the Executive Order shutting down fitness centers, the state had cataloged 242,000 COVID cases and only 747 of those cases were connected back to gyms – or .3% of all cases.
I could give you many more examples of the data that I reviewed, but it all shows that gyms are not a significant source of outbreaks. In fact, these facilities have done everything that has been asked of them – and most have even gone beyond the required safety measures, thus allowing millions of Minnesotans the ability to exercise safely while maintaining public health thanks to their large spaces, enhanced air filtration systems, and rules on reduced capacity, masking and social distancing.
Many constituents have called and written about how they depend on these facilities to recover from strokes, heart attacks and surgeries, to lose weight so that they’ll be less susceptible to disease, and to have a mental release during such stressful times. I believe that health and fitness centers are part of the solution to protecting both our physical and mental health and have urged the Governor to consider reopening. You can read my full letter here.
Business relief package:
Bars and restaurants were also closed to in-person dining in the latest Executive Order. I have worked actively for the past ten days with a couple of my colleagues to design a relief plan to help these small businesses make it through. I am pleased to report that we reached a bi-partisan agreement with the House, Senate, and the Administration.
This Business Relief Package will bring some short-term relief to those businesses that were mandated to close. It includes grants through the Department of Revenue to businesses affected by forced closures, grants though the Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) for movie theaters and large convention centers and grants that will be distributed through the counties for other businesses experiencing revenue losses due to COVID-19. Bars and restaurants will also be able to apply for the county grants.
There are a number of other pieces to this package, including an extension of Unemployment Insurance benefits, that we are still finalizing, but I anticipate that this will all come together for a vote when we convene again on Monday for special session.
Please stay healthy this holiday season,