Editorial Roundup: Minnesota

Minneapolis Star Tribune. November 29, 2021.

Editorial: Health care leaders must step up now

Stronger COVID safeguards, both old and new, are needed to control viral spread in Minnesota.

Michigan may have just replaced Minnesota as the nation’s hottest COVID-19 hot spot, but we still are heading into the holidays with grim viral metrics and the unknowns of the new omicron variant. To save lives, the state’s world-class medical providers need to step up now with this urgent but unpopular message:

Minnesota must do more to control the current COVID surge, and that includes implementing both old and new preventive measures to keep the upcoming holidays from refueling viral spread.

Actions that would make a difference include temporary indoor masking requirements in commercial spaces, requiring vaccination for entry to some indoor events, consistent masking requirements for K-12 schools, and testing and quarantining.

Another option that’s needed: a steady supply of free, rapid tests mailed monthly to every household. The state Department of Health has done praiseworthy work providing easily accessible community testing sites. But in-home tests, such as the BinaxNOW self-test, which can deliver results in 15 minutes, offer an edge in convenience. If supplies could be secured (an admittedly difficult challenge), this option could persuade more people to check for infection before going somewhere and spreading the virus.

“We need coordinated effort from the state. Hospitals are overflowing and providers are overwhelmed,” said Dr. Scott Colson, president of Voyage Healthcare clinics in the Twin Cities.

The call to action has to come from the state’s respected health care community. The reason it’s not likely to come from state government is the frustrating political stalemate over providing COVID bonus pay to front-line workers.

If the Republican Senate majority and Gov. Tim Walz can’t find a way forward on this, it’s unlikely further statewide solutions to curb COVID will come any time soon. Bipartisan support for any new protections is crucial. Scoring cheap political points off them would undermine public support for these new safeguards and thus, their effectiveness.

Pressure from the state’s medical providers may be the only option powerful enough to punch through the gridlock. It would be particularly valuable if the large health care systems came together and demanded additional protections.

These well-known health care systems are among the state’s largest employers, lending heft to their voices. And despite the despicable disinformation downplaying COVID’s threat, Minnesotans are still entrusting their loved ones’ care to their local hospitals and clinics.

It’s time for the leaders of Mayo Clinic, Allina Health, M Health Fairview, Hennepin Healthcare, CentraCare, EssentiaHealth, North Memorial Health and other respected providers to leverage the goodwill earned through the years. The Minnesota Hospital Association, the Minnesota Medical Association and the Minnesota Nurses Association also need to step up.

There’s no time to lose. As Colson noted, health care providers are overwhelmed and weary. Hospital capacity remains strained throughout the state. On Monday, the Star Tribune reported that “COVID-19 hospitalizations increased in Minnesota to a 2021 record of 1,467 on Friday, and included 340 people receiving intensive care.” This data is the most up-to-date available given the long holiday weekend.

There is one hopeful sign in the state’s metrics: the COVID testing positivity rate appears to be stabilizing. But it’s too soon to determine the impact of Thanksgiving holiday gatherings. Crowded indoor gatherings are ideal for viral spread. And Minnesota has the fifth-highest number of cases per 100,000 residents, according to a New York Times comparison of states.

The next month offers a crucial window of opportunity, and stronger safeguards would deliver maximum benefits. Moral clarity on this from Minnesota medical leaders could be a game-changer.

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Mankato Free Press. November 28, 2021.

Editorial: Public heath Risk rises in cutting emergency powers

A renewed push by Senate Republicans to curtail the governor’s ability to respond to a pandemic quickly is a proposal in search of a problem, is not supported by taxpayers and has a negative risk-reward ratio.

The push comes as we’re once again reminded of the deadly and voracious nature of the coronavirus. A new more contagious variant has emerged in South Africa. As researchers learn more about the so-called omicron variant, it highlights the need for public health agencies to move quickly.

Those agencies would be hamstrung and delayed by the GOP proposal. Senate Republicans have resurrected their proposal that both bodies of the Legislature would have to approve a continuation of a state of emergency longer than 30 days. Current law requires both House and Senate vote to end a state of emergency. And the governor would still be free to call them without legislative approval.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Jeremy Miller of Winona argues that the Legislature needs more input on emergency power policies, such as mask mandates and vaccine mandates. And we would argue they could do that right now if they controlled both houses of the Legislature. But changing the law to give them more voting power doesn’t seem wise.

The state’s system of emergency powers already provides a check against the governor’s power. The state’s Executive Council, made up of the attorney general, the state auditor, secretary of state, the governor and lieutenant governor, by law are charged with approving executive orders.

All the members are Democrats, and if Republicans want a check against the governor’s power, they should get elected to those positions.

Miller also says he’s willing to make the change in the law after Gov. Tim Walz leaves office.

For her part, DFL House Majority Leader Melissa Hortman mostly agrees Walz has been reasonable in his exercise of emergency powers, and that unless the Legislature becomes a full-time Legislature, it will not be able to respond as quickly as Walz has been able to respond.

A legislative body is just not designed to move quickly, and even seemingly sensible policies can be upended by bad actors and rogue players in the minority, like the fringe group, the New Republican Caucus, that proffers a lot of strange ideas like parts of the state joining South Dakota.

There’s no reason to change a law that’s working well. Millions of Minnesotans agree Walz has done an admirable and competent job with emergency powers. Minnesota had much better rates of survival, case transmission and hospital management than many other surrounding states.

COVID has gotten a stronger foothold now, after Walz ended his emergency powers through the year-end budget deal. And we don’t see the Republican Senate rushing forth with solutions to the current outbreak. It is Walz who has answered with calling in reinforcements of the National Guard to help hospitals and nursing homes with staffing.

Putting our response to the pandemic in idle, as would occur with the Legislature in control, would create great public health risk without any foreseeable reward. Our reward would be some people would have more freedom to reject the vaccine, get sick and die.

That’s not a policy. That’s a disaster.

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St. Cloud Times. November 26, 2021.

Editorial: Where you shop matters. Your dollars matter.

The shopping mall we have access to in 2021 is literally the whole world. A few clicks, a string of digits off a credit card and any gift from anywhere will show up on your doorstep.

Retail has been heading toward this truly global marketplace for years. The pandemic accelerated the widespread user experience solutions that turned it into a tool for every generation. After all, once you trust someone to deliver the food you’ll eat and the prescriptions you’ll take, all the barriers are down when it’s time to shop for stocking stuffers.

Those changes are a boon in many ways. Auto-delivery of household staples saves time and means what families need is always on hand - laundry detergent, coffee, cat litter or fruit snacks.

For the elderly, the handicapped or anyone who struggles with mobility doorstep delivery is an indispensable, independence-preserving convenience.

Still, holidays are supposed to be about giving. Consider how the choices you make with your gift spending can give twice - to the recipient, and to businesses that not only support the Central Minnesota economy, but also help support our quality of life.

Here are 9 reasons to spend dollars at local businesses whenever you can this holiday season — and beyond:

1) Local dollars are more likely to stay local. And that means money spent here will be re-spent here. Studies have shown that for every $100 spent at a local business, $68 stays in that community - far more than the estimated $43 that remains local for every $100 spent at a national retailer.

The proceeds of local purchases are more likely to be donated to local causes, used to support local schools, pay local taxes and make new local investments. More of your money stays here and stands a chance of serving you in some way. What a great gift-with-purchase.

2) Local businesses help retain the unique features of cities. A big-box store is the same wherever its sited - same signage, same architecture, same products, same prices. Locally owned stores reflect what’s special about your town, in turn making your town even more special (maybe even a destination).

3) Shopping local reduces packing waste or, put another way, keeps you from being injured in an avalanche of empty, oversized cardboard delivery boxes.

4) No porch pirates.

5) Want to take the kids to see Santa? Amazon can’t help you there. Want a sample cookie, or to see amazing holiday decorations you didn’t have to put up yourself? You’re looking for a local shopping experience.

6) You’ll stand out. When most of the gifts under the tree are available to everyone, everywhere, the well-chosen gift from a well-curated local business sends a message that you chose your gifts deliberately, not just conveniently. And who doesn’t want to be known as a great gift-giver?

7) Better customer service.

8) Spending local builds social capital. Chatting with the owner as you shop, even if it’s just an offer to help you find an item, is human connection. Running into a former classmate isn’t going to happen when you click “Go to checkout” with your mouse.

9) If giving a gift feels good, giving a gift that also helps a neighbor succeed feels even better.

In any economy, we generally get more of whatever we spend our money on. If you want more local, unique, interesting, successful small businesses with products that aren’t the same as those in Anytown, USA, the choice is clear: Spend local. It’s good for you, too.

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