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Walz to deploy National Guard to help ease COVID-19 surge

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Walz to deploy National Guard to help ease COVID-19 surge

Gov. Tim Walz said Friday he’ll use the Minnesota National Guard to help alleviate staffing shortages at care facilities that are struggling to cope with the surge in COVID-19 cases among unvaccinated Minnesotans.

“These folks need respite care. They’re at a breaking point. They can’t go anymore,” Walz said.

The governor went to North Memorial Health Hospital to announce plans for relieving overstretched staffs at long-term care facilities that prevent hospitals from discharging patients into transitional care centers. More than 400 Minnesota hospital patients are currently waiting for beds to open up are taking up space needed for incoming patients, he said.

Walz said the number of soldiers who will provide that relief and their exact roles have yet to be determined, but said it would be a “fairly large contingent.”

“We’re not going to send untrained National Guard into an ICU unit, but we can give them the training necessary to provide … the long-term care for the other folks,” he said.

Hospitals across Minnesota are at or near capacity. They’re currently treating just over 1,000 COVID-19 patients. But officials say the problem is not just due to the coronavirus, but also other conditions such as heart attacks, strokes, trauma, scheduled surgeries and a backlog of procedures that began building up earlier in the pandemic.

The governor also reactivated an emergency staffing pool that operated earlier in the pandemic to help care centers that suddenly found themselves with too few workers. And he announced plans to expand the availability of rapid testing with at least six more community sites to make it easier for people with symptoms to get results back in minutes. The Guard said 75 members would support the testing push, a role the Guard also filled earlier in the pandemic.

Dr. Kevin Croston, CEO of the North Memorial Health system, said the “roller coaster” that his employees are enduring is happening all over Minnesota.

“Our teams are now more stressed than they’ve ever been,” Croston said. “And we have critical staffing shortages layered on top of that that we didn’t have a year ago.”

Andy Cochrane, chief hospital officer at North Memorial Health, said the average age of hospitalized patients is going down with each wave. He said 96% of intensive care patients at North Memorial’s hospitals in Robbinsdale and Maple Grove who test positive are unvaccinated, while 77% testing positive in their medical-surgical units haven’t been immunized.

Walz and Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said they were heartbroken to hear from caregivers that they’ve become afraid to go out in public in their scrubs because they’re increasingly getting abused by people who somehow blame them for the pandemic, or still deny that COVID-19 is real.

“That is just so incredibly offensive that these people who are literally putting their lives on the line to save ours are not being treated today with the same kind of respect that they were treated with when this began,” Malcolm said.

Walz called on the Legislature once again to pass a emergency waivers and other measures he proposed earlier to ease the pressure on care facilities.

But plans remain stalemated for a special session to deal with that proposal and others. Republican Senate Majority Leader Jeremy Miller, of Winona, sent Walz a letter Friday indicating his caucus is still unwilling to guarantee they won’t use the special session to fire Malcolm, which is one of the governor’s conditions for calling them back to St. Paul. Walz urged lawmakers to put aside their differences and get something done.

“This should have been over. The economy could be stronger. We could have more people alive,” Walz said. “The idea that we’re losing 25 Minnesotans a day to a preventable disease that is almost 99-plus percent preventable if you get a vaccine is unconscionable. We’re better than this.”

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Michelle Wu reappoints Rafaela Polanco Garcia and Lorena Lopera to Boston School Committee

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Michelle Wu reappoints Rafaela Polanco Garcia and Lorena Lopera to Boston School Committee

Boston School Committee members Lorena Lopera and Rafaela Polanco Garcia have been reappointed to their positions by Mayor Michelle Wu and will now serve on the board until 2024.

“I am excited and grateful to reappoint these passionate community leaders who have consistently advocated for equity, inclusion, and accessibility in our school system. They both will continue to work to support families, educators, and community members and advocate for the high-quality education our students deserve,” Wu said in a statement.

Former Acting Mayor Kim Janey had appointed Lopera and Garcia, and their terms expired with Janey’s, as acting mayors in Boston cannot make permanent appointments.

The two School Committee members reapplied for their seats and were chosen by Wu. They will serve terms that are set to expire on Jan. 1, 2024.

Boston School Committee Chair Jeri Robinson said Lopera and Garcia “have each added great depth to our conversations as a Committee and I look forward to their continued engagement as we advance important policy issues.”

Both Garcia and Lopera are Boston Public Schools parents. Garcia serves as director of parent engagement and organizing at St. Stephen’s Youth Programs. She is an immigrant from the Dominican Republic and primarily speaks Spanish.

Lopera is executive director of Latinos for Education. She lives in Jamaica Plain and is an immigrant from Colombia.

Lopera said, “My educational experience and my experience as a Boston Public Schools parent will continue to guide my decisions on the committee. I look forward to working with families, educators and community members so that our school system is more equitable, responsive, and provides quality support for all of our children.”

Garcia said she looks forward to representing immigrants and English language learners, adding, “I hope to continue promoting language access and to represent my community with dignity.”

A citizens nominating panel of Boston parents, teachers and other community members receives applications for school committee positions and interviews candidates before sending a list of finalists for the mayor to choose.

Applications are open for two more spots on the school committee for seats currently held by members Ernani DeAraujo and Hardin Coleman.

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Charlie Baker insists vaccine verification system is not a pathway to mandates

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Charlie Baker insists vaccine verification system is not a pathway to mandates

Gov. Charlie Baker wants everyone to know he does not support a vaccine mandate statewide — “period.”

His unequivocal stance comes after he went on radio and said a digital vaccine verification system may soon be coming to Massachusetts. The floodgates opened and he was hit with a barrage of questions about how and why it will be implemented.

Baker emphasized that he has “never supported or agreed to any sort of statewide vaccine mandate program” several times, and added that he doesn’t plan to in the future. He explained that the mandate is only in place for people who “want to go to a wedding or to a church, or to a restaurant where proof of vaccination is required,” he said.

“This isn’t about creating a mandate or a statewide initiative of any kind, we just want to make sure that people have the ability, if they’ve been vaccinated and want to have proof that they’ve been vaccinated, that they can easily download it onto their phone and use it whenever they need to,” Baker said.

Baker also didn’t weigh in on the broader use of the technology, which he said will be rolled out “soon,” throughout an unnamed city, for example. Boston Mayor Michelle Wu has recently hinted that she’s considering a “vaccine passport” system similar to the one in New York City, which requires patrons to show their vaccination status before entering venues like gyms, theaters and restaurants.

“We said from the very beginning of the pandemic that we’re going to pursue one set of rules that we consider to be important at the state level, but we’re going to give locals a lot of latitude with respect to how they want to play it at the local level,” Baker said, making no mention of Boston or Wu.

Though the governor touted the ease of verification availability on people’s smartphones, even as the ACLU of Massachusetts has raised concerns.

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Charlie Baker attends groundbreaking at Norwood Hospital, damaged by 2020 flood

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Charlie Baker attends groundbreaking at Norwood Hospital, damaged by 2020 flood

Gov. Charlie Baker attended a groundbreaking ceremony in Norwood to mark the start of construction on a new hospital in the town after the old one was damaged in a June 2020 flood.

“There will be a beautiful new hospital here and this hospital will continue to provide care and service to this community for at least another 100 years,” Baker said. “But that wipeout that took place that day, that was another profound example of how you can’t always predict what every day is going to be like.”

Norwood Town Manager Tony Mazzucco said emergency rescuers evacuated over 100 people from the hospital that night during the pandemic and the storm without any injuries to patients or first responders.

The hospital is set to reopen in 2024.

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