SEOC UPDATE #26: AS GOVERNOR ANNOUNCES COVID-19 TESTING BREAKTHROUGH, OTHER IMPORTANT WORK CONTINUES

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Gov. Tim Walz called a ramp up in COVID-19 testing announced today “one tool in a toolbox that leads us in the right direction.” The new statewide testing strategy aims to test all symptomatic people, isolate confirmed cases, and expand contact tracing tools.

 

State agency and volunteer organization officials continue working on the other tools necessary to help Minnesotans, farmers and businesses struggling as COVID-19 tightens its grip across the state. 
 

Incident Management Team on the ground in Worthington

The State Emergency Operations Center (SEOC) remains fully activated and staffed either physically or virtually by all state agencies and several volunteer organizations.

  • An incident management team of three emergency management experts is on the ground in Worthington to assist with their response to several COVID-19 cases at a pork producing facility. The team is working with the Minnesota Department of Health, Sanford Health, local emergency management and county public health officials to assist with local needs.
  • SEOC officials worked with the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) and the Food Group in New hope to deliver 18 pallets of food to the Red Lake Nation on Tuesday.
  • Officials in the SEOC are working with FEMA to obtain more federal personal protective equipment (PPE). Gowns remain in short supply and are a focus of PPE efforts.
  • The SEOC continues to support the state hotline. The hotline received 84 calls April 21. Callers are asking about testing and returning people to the workforce. State employees are answering calls from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. at 651-297-1304 or 800-657-3504.   

 

Department of Agriculture assists livestock producers/processors during COVID-19 pandemic 

The recent closures of meat processing plants around the region due to COVID-19 is disrupting traditional animal markets and the meat supply chain. The Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) is working to limit this disruption for producers of smaller herds or flocks by matching them with slaughter facilities and identifying other marketing opportunities. 

  • Farmers with smaller herds or flocks seeking new processors, alternate markets, or increased storage, please contact Jim Ostlie at 320-842-6910 orJim.Ostlie@state.mn.us, or Courtney VanderMey at 651-201-6135 or Courtney.Vandermey@state.mn.us.
  • The MDA is working with existing "Equal To" processors (plants under continuous inspection that are able to produce and process meat and poultry products for wholesale within the State of Minnesota) to expand capacity. We are also developing an expedited approval process to enable plants that currently do not sell wholesale within the state to do so. If these establishments meet the minimum requirements, they will be granted a 90-day provisional grant of inspection. Processing plants interested in expanding their slaughter capacity, have additional processing capacity, or wanting expedited licensing, please contact Jennifer Stephes at 651-248-2566.
  • The MDA is providing additional financial assistance by awarding over $345,000 in AGRI Value-Added Grants to nine Minnesota meat processors. The companies will be using the funds for facility improvements, such as increasing freezer space and new equipment for slaughter and processing capacity.
  • A new grant program, the AGRI Rapid Response Mini-Grant for Livestock Processing, is intended to assist processors and certain producers respond to market issues caused by COVID-19. This grant will be launched by April 30 and will be available to eligible Minnesota processors of meat, poultry, eggs, and milk, and to livestock producers who need storage capacity for processed products until existing markets return or new markets are developed.

 

Emergency food aid will help 250,000 Minnesotans

Minnesota is receiving about $55 million in emergency Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) aid through the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act. These funds will maximize nutrition assistance for approximately 134,000 households, with more than 250,000 people. SNAP offers monthly food benefits based on a household’s income, expenses and number of people. DHS will begin issuing the emergency supplements to qualifying households April 28 and will continue throughout May on a staggered basis. People who qualify don’t have to take any action. Instead, the supplemental aid will be added to their Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards.

  • The emergency supplements will go to households that didn’t receive the maximum amount of nutrition assistance in March and April.
  • The supplemental assistance will vary by household, with monthly amounts averaging $149. For example, a family of four that receives $497 per month would get an emergency supplement of $149, bringing them to the maximum monthly benefit of $646 for a four-person household.
  • Households that already receive the maximum amount of SNAP benefits won’t get an emergency supplement.
  • Information about SNAP and other hunger resources is collected on the DHS food emergency webpage. Food help is also available through the Minnesota Food HelpLine, 888-711-1151 or www.mnfoodhelpline.org. Counties and tribes continue to accept and process SNAP applications under Gov. Walz’s stay-at-home order. Applications can be done online at ApplyMN or by phone, mail, fax or drop boxes at county and tribal human service offices.
  • More information is in a news release on the Minnesota Department of Human Services website.

 

State awards first emergency child care grants 

More than 1,200 Minnesota child care providers will receive about $9.8 million to continue serving children of essential workers through the first round of emergency state funding announced Monday by DHS. The grants, proposed by Gov. Walz and authorized by the Minnesota Legislature last month, will help family child care providers and child care centers ensure there is enough capacity to serve these families during the state’s COVID-19 response.

  • A total of $30 million has been authorized by the state to assist child care providers. Whether or not they received a grant in the first round, child care providers will have the opportunity apply for grants in the second and third rounds in mid-May and mid-June.
  • The grants were awarded through Child Care Aware of Minnesota, which received applications from 5,380 state licensed child care programs and 22 tribally licensed programs. Implementation of the Peacetime Child Care Emergency Child Care Grants has been a successful partnership between the Minnesota Children’s Cabinet, Child Care Aware and DHS.
  • Selected applicants will receive an award on a month-to-month basis. Monthly grant awards start at $4,500 with up to $15,500 additional funding based on added services and capacity. The grants are intended to provide about $10 million per month over three months to make sure child care is available. Child care programs receiving the grants will be able to continue charging fees for families still attending their programs. The grant funding will help support expenses not covered due to decreased enrollment.
  • Providers who meet eligibility criteria may apply for future rounds of grants through the Child Care Aware website.
  • More information is in a news release on the DHS website.

 

Emergency enrollment period for uninsured Minnesotans ends; other coverage options still available

MNsure’s COVID-19 Emergency 30-day Special Enrollment Period (SEP) ended on April 21. Between March 23 and April 21, over 23,000 Minnesotans applied for health care coverage. By the numbers (March 23-April 21):

  • Enrolled in private insurance plans through MNsure: 9,482.
  • Applied for public programs through MNsure: 13,739.
  • Total applying for coverage during SEP: 23,221.

While the Emergency SEP for uninsured Minnesotans has ended, there are still ways to get covered. Go to MNsure.org to learn more about: 

  • Loss of employer insurance: Minnesotans who have recently lost or will lose insurance through their employer may qualify for a special enrollment period to enroll in a plan through MNsure and avoid a gap in coverage. 
  • Other qualifying life events: Minnesotans who experience another qualifying life event (such as marriage, birth or adoption of a child, or a move) may also be eligible to shop for coverage.
  • Low- or no-cost coverage: Minnesotans who qualify, can access low- or no-cost coverage through Medical Assistance and MinnesotaCare.
  • American Indians: Members of a federally recognized American Indian tribe can also sign up at any time year-round.

Where to find help: 

  • MNsure has a statewide network of expert assisters who can help Minnesotans apply and enroll, free of charge.
    • Go to MNsure.org and click on “Find Free Help.”
  • The MNsure Contact Center is open 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday-Friday, at 651-539-2099 or 855-366-7873.

 

Red Cross in Minnesota: Diversity in blood donation, Disaster relief in pandemic times

  • During this pandemic environment, it's important to remember diversity in blood and platelet donations especially, for example, to meet the needs of Sickle Cell patients in our state and across the country. 
  • The Red Cross is encouraging eligible donors from communities of color to keep their scheduled donation appointments and to look for open appointments in the weeks ahead at redcrossblood.org.
  • Red Cross volunteers are staffing remotely the SEOC and coordinating with local and state emergency management as well as community partners.
  • Following an COVID-19 outbreak at the JBS plant in Worthington, the Red Cross is in communication with local plant and emergency partners to determine next steps to support families affected.
  • The Red Cross continues providing home fire relief during this pandemic. For example, the Red Cross is supporting shelter, food, health and disaster mental health relief for 35 people displaced by a fire in Minneapolis on April 21.

 

Minnesota sees an increase statewide in people walking, bicycling

Walking and bicycling numbers are up 64 percent statewide during the period of March 13 to April 19, 2020, compared to the average of the last three years during the same time period. Greater Minnesota counters show a 75 percent increase and Twin Cities Metro counters show numbers are up 51 percent. The Minnesota Department of Transportation reminds motorists, pedestrians and bicyclists that we all share responsibility for keeping everyone safe: follow the law, pay attention and share the road.

 

COVID-19 deaths, lab-confirmed cases continue to climb

  • 2,721 lab-confirmed cases in Minnesota — an increase of 154 cases since April 21. 
  • 179 reported deaths — an increase of 19 since April 21; 16 of the 19 deaths were residents in long-term care facilities.  
  • 240 patients are currently hospitalized with 107 in intensive care units (ICU). The number of ICU patients is down 10 from April 21.
  • 1,317 patients have been released from isolation.
  • Learn more about the latest lab-diagnosed cases on the COVID-19 public dashboard.

 

Traffic volumes remain well below last year’s April numbers

The Minnesota Department of Transportation continues to monitor traffic volumes statewide.

  • Metro area: Traffic volumes on April 21 were down 36 percent compared to Tuesday averages for April 2019.
  • Statewide: Traffic volumes on April 21 were down 31 percent compared to Tuesday averages for April 2019.
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