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ENEWS: Public health and Minnesota

Date Published: 10/21/2021

Author: Erin Wilson

Public health and Minnesota 

We are talking about public health in this week’s newsletter not with the intention to weigh you down with heavy news, but to emphasize the importance of vigilance in combating this pandemic and to refocus conversation on the public health crisis that this country faces and must confront— both with COVID-19 and beyond.

COVID-19 in Minnesota 

Around 3.2 million Minnesotans are fully vaccinated, yet our state’s new infection rate is the seventh worst in the U.S. The Star Tribune reported that the number of breakthrough COVID-19 cases is around 45,827 among fully vaccinated Minnesotans, which amounts to about 1.4% of the fully vaccinated population. However, “unvaccinated Minnesotans make up 40% of the state population — including children 11 and younger who aren't eligible for shots — but make up about 64% of the coronavirus infections identified in the past week,” the article said. 

“Minnesota's totals in the pandemic reached 8,436 COVID-19 deaths and 758,252 infections, including 29 deaths and 2,868 infections reported on Monday. The positivity rate of diagnostic testing in Minnesota also increased to 8.4% — the highest rate since Dec. 14, when COVID-19 vaccine first became available in the state,” the article continued. 

Additionally, Gov. Walz announced that the Minnesota National Guard was asked to “support long-term care facilities” in order to give providers “more access to an emergency staffing pool that previously helped on short notice when facilities were struggling to find enough workers due to illness,”  the Star Tribune reported in another article. Providers said this strategy from Walz doesn’t address the core financial issues causing short staffing, but were appreciative of "efforts to address health care backups through strike teams." The article goes on to detail Minnesota’s increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations amid short staffing. Officials from North Memorial Health said that among COVID-positive patients in their system’s ICUs, 96% are people who are unvaccinated. 

“The state's testing positivity rate was listed at 8.4%, higher than the state's caution threshold of 5% and a number that until recent days has not been seen since last December. The numbers illustrate how Minnesota is not seeing the improved COVID trends being reported in many other states, said Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm,” the article reports. 

Malcolm said yesterday that unvaccinated Minnesotans are 30 times more likely to die from COVID-19 and 15 times more likely to be hospitalized from the disease. 

Lastly, this segment from MPR talks with a traveling nurse from Minnesota who worked at hospitals and cared for COVID patients along the West Coast over the past year. It’s an intimate look at how the pandemic has weighed on health care workers, especially as they continue to deal with burnout, short staffing, and more. You can also read a transcript of the interview at the link above. 

“The worst of it was that there was really no satisfaction left in doing our job. There's no gratification for us being able to help a patient anymore because I got to the place where I felt like I couldn't even help someone die comfortably,” the nurse said. 

“Why Public Health Faces a Crisis Across the U.S.”

A New York Times review of hundreds of health departments across every state suggested that “local public health across the country is less equipped to confront a pandemic now than it was at the beginning of 2020,” the article on their review says. 

The review consisted of interviews with more than 140 local health officials, public health experts and lawmakers, reinspection of new state laws, analysis of local government documents and a survey that was sent to every county health department in the country, which received responses from nearly 300 departments.  

Key points from the review found that: 

  1. A major loss of public health agency employees, many of whom were experiencing exhaustion and burnout. Short staffing caused barriers to proper contact tracing in 130 agencies. 
  2. “Legislators have approved more than 100 new laws — with hundreds more under consideration — that limit state and local health powers,” according to the article. 
  3. Many people have turned against public health agencies and supported government leaders who promised to “rein in” those departments. 
  4. “Billions of dollars have been made available to public health by the federal government, but most of it has been geared toward stemming the emergency, rather than hiring permanent staff or building long-term capability,” the article said. 

The New York Times article expands extensively on each of these points. You can read it here. 

For more info on the U. S. Public Health Service, click here: https://www.usphs.gov/


“While the coronavirus has killed more than 700,000 in the United States in nearly two years, a more invisible casualty has been the nation’s public health system. Already underfunded and neglected even before the pandemic, public health has been further undermined in ways that could resound for decades to come.” “Why Public Health Faces a Crisis Across the U.S.,” in The New York Times 

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