MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota officials are reopening four free coronavirus testing sites this week as circulation of the highly contagious delta variant renews demand for testing.
The reopened locations include sites in St. Paul and Bloomington, augmenting existing metro area sites in Brooklyn Park and at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. Outside of the metro area, locations in St. Cloud and Mankato are expected to resume testing this week.
The increase in testing locations comes as virus cases continue to grow across the state and hospitals near full capacity, with both intensive care unit beds and overall hospital beds more than 90% occupied.
St. Louis County health officials and healthcare workers said Tuesday that hospitalizations and deaths due to COVID-19 are surging in the region — the vast majority in unvaccinated people.
Andrea Boehland, an emergency department doctor with Essentia Health, said the strain in capacity is coinciding with a time of year when the number of patients seeking treatment for ailments unrelated to the virus is high. Staffing constraints due to exhaustion and difficulty finding travelling healthcare workers who had helped during surges earlier in the pandemic are creating further challenges.
The healthcare workers listed vaccination and masking in public settings as the most effective ways to limit transmission and reduce the strain on healthcare systems.
MORE ON THE PANDEMIC:
— Pennsylvania to require masks in all K-12 schools, childcare facilities
— Idaho governor calls in help amid surge in COVID-19 patients
— Mormon vaccine push ratchets up, dividing faith’s members
— No stranger to plagues, Venice opens film festival with caution
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem has activated nine soldiers from the state National Guard to help with COVID-19 testing in the western part of the state amid a surge of infections.
Over the past two weeks, the average number of infections has tripled statewide. Johns Hopkins University researchers say that one in every 570 South Dakotans has tested positive in the past week. The western part of the state has been the hardest hit by the virus. Meade County, which hosted the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally earlier this month, leads the state in new cases per capita.
BOISE, Idaho — Idaho Gov. Brad Little is calling in 220 medical workers available through federal programs and mobilizing 150 Idaho National Guard soldiers to deal with a surge in unvaccinated COVID-19 patients who are overwhelming the state’s hospitals.
The Republican governor said Tuesday the moves are a last-ditch effort to avoid activating for the first time statewide crisis standards of care that could force medical professionals to decide who lives and who dies.
The last week has seen about 1,000 newly confirmed COVID-19 cases per day, most of them unvaccinated. Little says only four intensive care unit beds were available in the entire state on Tuesday.
LANSING, Mich. — A federal judge has blocked Western Michigan University from enforcing a COVID-19 vaccine requirement on four female soccer players, ruling they are likely to prevail on claims it violates their constitutional religious rights.
District Judge Paul Maloney in Grand Rapids issued the temporary restraining order on the day of the school’s deadline for athletes to get an initial shot or be unable to practice or compete. He said while the university had not had an opportunity to respond to the lawsuit, “WMU’s vaccination requirement for student athletes is not justified by a compelling interest and is not narrowly tailored.”
He scheduled a hearing concerning a temporary injunction on Sept. 9.
Unlike at other Michigan universities, Western’s vaccine requirement does not extend to all students and employees, though the unvaccinated do have to undergo weekly coronavirus testing. The four athletes said they were denied religious exemptions to play without getting a dose.
The Kalamazoo-based school says it does not comment on ongoing litigation.
SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Gov. Spencer Cox cast doubt on the efficacy of mask-wearing Tuesday as health leaders made some of their most impassioned pleas yet for state residents to mask up and get vaccinated.
Cox, a Republican, said his administration is encouraging people to wear masks but said it is unclear whether they are effective against the highly contagious delta variant of the coronavirus.
“Masks are not as effective as most of the pro-mask crowd are arguing,” Cox told reporters at a news conference. “We know that they’re just not.”
Cox’s comments contradicted earlier statements at the news conference from state epidemiologist Dr. Michelle Hofmann and state hospital leaders who made emotional pleas for vaccinations and universal masking to prevent the state’s ongoing COVID-19 surge.
“There will be enduring harm to our children and generations to come if we do not stop the divisiveness around the things we know work like masks and vaccines,” Hofmann said. “We know the path to healing is the end of this pandemic, and it hasn’t ended yet even if we want to pretend it has.”
The governor has previously urged state residents to wear masks and has defended his administration’s decision to mandate masks in schools last year against parent protests.
Under a new state law, school mask mandates this school year are now banned, though students can wear face coverings if they or their parents choose.
HELENA, Mont. — Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte announced on Tuesday a rule encouraging schools to give parents final say on whether children should wear masks in schools, after several large school districts in the state implemented mask requirements for all students.
Gianforte, a Republican, made the announcement after the U.S. Department of Education opened on Monday civil rights investigations into five Republican-led states that have banned or limited mask requirements in schools, saying the policies could amount to discrimination against students with disabilities or health conditions.
Gianforte said in a statement that masking in schools, which is recommended by the Centers for Disease Control, is “based on inconclusive research.” He also said masking could have adverse impacts on children’s “health, wellbeing and development.”
The CDC issued its guidance in light of the rapid spread of the highly contagious delta variant of COVID-19.
The rule says schools should consider “parental concerns” when adopting mask mandates and should provide parents the ability opt out of health-related mandates for a wide array of reasons including physical and mental health, developmental needs, religious beliefs and moral convictions.
BOISE, Idaho — Idaho Gov. Brad Little is calling in 220 medical workers available through federal programs and mobilizing 150 Idaho National Guard soldiers to deal with a surge in unvaccinated COVID-19 patients overwhelming the state’s hospitals.
The Republican governor says the moves are a last-ditch effort to avoid activating for the first time statewide crisis standards of care that could force medical professionals to decide who lives and who dies.
The last week registered about 1,000 new confirmed cases per day, mostly unvaccinated. Little says only four intensive care unit beds were available in the entire state on Tuesday.
The workers include a 20-person U.S. Department of Defense medical response team deployed to northern Idaho, where vaccination rates are among the lowest in the state.
JACKSON, Miss. — Republican Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi says he has fully recovered from COVID-19.
The 70-year-old Wicker says he’s looking forward to traveling in Mississippi this week. He’s one of three senators who announced Aug. 19 that they had tested positive for the coronavirus. The others were 77-year-old independent Angus King of Maine and 69-year-old Democrat John Hickenlooper of Colorado. All three had been vaccinated.
Hickenlooper said Friday he had a mild case. King says Tuesday he has recovered, although he didn’t feel great during the worst of his illness.
HONOLULU — Health care officials in Hawaii are concerned about a shortage of oxygen amid the coronavirus surge.
The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reports hospital officials are canceling nonemergency procedures that require oxygen to conserve supplies. Hilton Raethel, president and CEO of the trade group Healthcare Association of Hawaii, says there is a global shortage of oxygen containers needed for transport to the islands.
Hawaii’s two liquid oxygen plants have switched to producing medical gas only. Raethel says mainland tank orders are backlogged for months. Hawaii Pacific Health, which oversees several hospitals in the state, directed staff to cancel elective procedures that require oxygen.
HARRISBURG, Pa. — Gov. Tom Wolf announced masks will be required in all Pennsylvania K-12 schools starting on Sept. 7.
The masking order will apply to private as well as public schools and to child care facilities.
Pennsylvania’s two statewide teachers’ unions had urged K-12 schools to require masks in school buildings, citing the more contagious delta variant of the coronavirus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends masks in schools for students, staff and teachers.
Wolf is taking action amid a statewide resurgence of coronavirus that’s filling hospital beds just as students return to class.
Pennsylvania is averaging more than 3,200 confirmed daily infections — 20 times the number in early July. More than 1,700 people are hospitalized with COVID-19, up sevenfold since last month. Deaths have doubled in two weeks to about 20 per day.
OMAHA, Neb. — The number of coronavirus cases in Nebraska has nearly doubled over the past two weeks with the highly contagious delta variant.
Nebraska reported 5,006 new cases for the week ending Friday, according to an Omaha World-Herald analysis of data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s up from 3,755 the previous week and nearly double the 2,668 cases recorded the week before.
The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Nebraska has risen in the past two weeks from 190 new cases per day on Aug. 15 to 715 on Sunday.
INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana’s governor has extended the state’s COVID-19 public health emergency through September.
Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb is in discussions with health care providers about a new statewide executive order amid the state’s surge in coronavirus cases.
He signed his 18th extension of the public health emergency he first issued in March 2020. Health officials say about 97% of the people hospitalized in the state with COVID-19 are unvaccinated.
About 52% of eligible Indiana residents are vaccinated. Indiana hospitalizations have surged in the past month and a record number of infections have been reported by Indiana schools.
The governor’s office says a new order for September would be issued Wednesday after talks with “health care stakeholders to evaluate pertinent information that supports hospitals during the current COVID surge.”
DENVER — Colorado health care workers at facilities, including assisted living homes, nursing homes and hospitals, must be vaccinated against COVID-19 by the end of October under a temporary emergency rule approved the state board of health.
The 6-1 vote during an emergency session came after Gov. Jared Polis requested the board consider a vaccine mandate, The Denver Post reported. It applies to staff and contract workers who work with patients or clients at about 3,800 licensed facilities regulated by the board. It doesn’t apply to doctors’ offices or urgent care centers.
Several people who spoke at the hearing suggested workers would quit rather than be vaccinated, worsening staffing shortages. Workers can seek medical or religious exemptions from their employers.
Facilities can ask for waivers from the state to allow less than 100% of their workers to be vaccinated but must propose a plan to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus.
MADISON, Wis. — A Wisconsin lawmaker, who has been an outspoken critic of vaccine and mask mandates, remains hospitalized with COVID-19-induced pneumonia. His wife is urging people to get vaccinated for the coronavirus.
Republican state Sen. Andre Jacque has been hospitalized since Aug. 16. He was placed on a ventilator several days later.
His wife, Renee Jacque, said in an email to WBAY-TV on Monday that five of their eight family members have tested positive for COVID-19. They have six children, including an infant.
She said of three fully vaccinated family members, one person contracted the virus with mild symptoms.