MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz said Wednesday that he wants to use $40 million in federal funding to support emergency staffing at hospitals that are straining to cope with a surge in COVID-19 cases that is expected to get worse.
Walz said he asked to use the money to fund the hiring of nurses to work 60 hours per week for 60 days at hospitals experiencing staffing shortages because of the virus. The money would be in addition to another $40 million Walz wants to put toward expanding testing — both of which come out of $500 million in American Rescue Plan state funds for immediate COVID-19 response.
The funding is expected to pay a staffing agency to bring in 350 health care workers that are mostly nurses, the Star Tribune reported. The move is in response to increasing case numbers statewide linked to the fast-spreading omicron variant of the virus as hospitalizations climbed back above 1,500 on Tuesday.
The governor submitted the request to the Legislative COVID-19 Response Commission, a bipartisan group of legislative leaders from both chambers that reviews requests from the state’s COVID-19 fund that top $1 million. The governor’s office said the commission met on Wednesday and expects a decision by Saturday. Democratic House Speaker Melissa Hortman, of Brooklyn Park, has sent in her approval vote, according to her spokesman.
Meanwhile, Republican Senate Majority Leader Jeremy Miller, of Winona, sent a letter to Walz and legislative leaders saying Senate Republicans are ready to pass two proposals that would approve a licensing agreement for out-of-state nurses and to streamline regulations for hiring at medical facilities, should the governor call a special session before the start of the regular legislative session on Jan. 31.
The mayors of Minneapolis and St. Paul said Wednesday that customers will now be required to show proof of vaccination or a negative test to enter restaurants, bars and other venues in an effort to mitigate spread of COVID-19. The rule, which takes effect Jan. 19, applies to all businesses where food and drink are served for on-site consumption.
Children under age 2 will be exempt from the policy, while children between the ages of 2 and 5, who are not yet eligible for the vaccine, will need to be tested. The move comes a week after both mayors reinstated indoor mask requirements.