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Minnesota COVID-19 patients face a lottery for monoclonal treatment that works against omicron



Minnesota COVID-19 patients face a lottery for monoclonal treatment that works against omicron

Minnesotans who get a serious case of COVID-19 may face long odds of getting one of the life-saving treatments that can fight off the omicron variant because they are in such short supply.

State health officials had steadily increased the availability of monoclonal antibodies — a type of antibody infusion — to help high-risk patients avoid severe COVID-19 infections. Unfortunately, now only one monoclonal antibody formula, Sotrovimab, works against omicron.

“That is in very low supply nationally and in Minnesota,” Jan Malcolm, health commissioner, recently told members of the Minnesota House health committee.

The state has moved to a random selection process to decide who gets what monoclonal antibodies the state has on hand. This week it got just under 600 doses of Sotrovimab, a slight increase from the week before.

The state received larger allocations of the two new antiviral pills — Molnupiravir and Paxlovid — getting about 12,000 total doses of those newly approved pills since they became available in December.

The random selection process the state uses is a weighted system that identifies patients who would most benefit from monoclonal treatments. When treatments are scarce, patients who receive the medicines are picked through a lottery.

In some instances, the process could give consideration to front-line health workers who were sickened while caring for COVID patients. Many Minnesota health systems, but not all, follow the state’s guidance for distributing scarce treatments.

The guidelines do not take into account whether someone has been vaccinated.

The state stopped using race as a factor in that weighted system for allocating monoclonal treatments Jan. 12 after America First Legal threatened a lawsuit against the Minnesota Department of Health alleging racial and ethnic discrimination.

“These racist policies decide questions of life and death based on skin color and must be rescinded immediately,” Stephen Miller, the group’s president and a former adviser to President Trump, said in a statement. “No right is safe if the government can award or deny medical care based on race. End this horrid injustice.”

America First Legal filed a lawsuit Jan. 16 against the New York State Department of Health for a similar policy.

Throughout the pandemic, Minnesota Department of Health data has shown Black, Native American, Hispanic, Asian and multiracial residents have had higher rates of COVID-19 hospitalization and death than white residents.

When asked about the rationale for removing race as a factor, despite it being part of federal guidance, a state Department of Health spokesman said in an emailed statement:

“The State of Minnesota is committed to serving all Minnesotans equitably in its response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Ensuring that communities that have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 have the support and resources they need is critical and we are constantly reviewing our policies in order to meet that goal.”

Minnesota continues to experience record high caseloads of COVID-19 driven by the highly contagious omicron variant. The state is reporting, on average, more than 11,000 new infections each day and test-positivity is at 27 percent.


Thompson Lake closed after 50,000 gallons of wastewater sewage flows into the West St. Paul lake



Thompson Lake closed after 50,000 gallons of wastewater sewage flows into the West St. Paul lake

A wastewater sewage discharge into Thompson Lake has temporarily closed the West St. Paul lake and prompted city and county officials to urge people not to have contact with the water.

According to the city, a valve leak released about 70,000 gallons of sewage into the lake over several hours.

People and pets should not have direct contact with the lake water, including fishing, until levels can be tested “and we know it’s safe again,” the city said in a Monday afternoon statement.

Public Works Director Ross Beckwith said the sewage leak was discovered around 7 a.m. Monday after someone from St. Croix Lutheran Academy, which is just west of the lake, noticed water running out of a 15-foot-deep concrete manhole.

The leak began after an air-release valve gasket of an underground pipe broke, Beckwith said. By 8:30 a.m., a new valve had been installed.

Considering that 1.2 million gallons of sewage runs through the underground pipe each day, the leak “could have been catastrophic,” Beckwith said.

The city is working with the Minnesota Department of Health and Minnesota Department of the Pollution Control to determine whether any mitigation needs to be done.

“We’re waiting for the PCA to tell us next steps,” Beckwith said.

The county has posted signs alerting visitors to not come in contact with the water until further notice.

The seven-acre lake is located just west of U.S. Highway 52 and south of Butler Avenue within Thompson County Park.

For updates as available, go to or call 952-891-7000.

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Nestor Cortes deletes his Twitter account after old tweets surface: ‘It’s not who I am’



Nestor Cortes deletes his Twitter account after old tweets surface: ‘It’s not who I am’

BALTIMORE — After taking over as the American League ERA leader on Sunday, Nestor Cortes took down his Twitter account. While the 27-year-old was on the mound in Chicago, fans had combed through his social media accounts and found Tweets and Instagram posts from 2012-2015 where he used a racial slur. Some of his tweets appeared to be quoting from rap lyrics.

Cortes took responsibility Monday.

“I hate myself for having done that, it’s not who I am or want to be,” Cortes said. “I found out about it [the social media posts going viral], I sought out help on how to handle it and I am taking a break so that going forward I can use [social media] in the right way. I want to have a good message, especially for kids.”

While Cortes was mowing down the White Sox Sunday, fans of a Yankees rival found the tweets and social media posts and put them together. At the time of the posts, Cortes would have between 17 and 20 years old.

“I didn’t know how it happened, but it doesn’t matter,” Cortes said. “I shouldn’t have done it. I don’t want it out there now. I want to use my [social media platform] to give a positive message to fans and especially to kids out there.”

Cortes has been the Yankees’ best pitcher this season, posting a 1.35 ERA through his first seven starts this season.


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Here’s the $8 billion worth of topics where Minnesota lawmakers need to find common ground



Here’s the $8 billion worth of topics where Minnesota lawmakers need to find common ground

Minnesota lawmakers need to act fast to find $8 billion worth of bipartisan compromises after leading lawmakers announced a supplemental budget framework Monday.

Gov. Tim Walz, Senate Majority Leader Jeremy Miller and House Speaker Melissa Hortman set broad parameters on how lawmakers can spend $8 billion over the next three years. But they left most of the details to members of bipartisan joint committees formed after the House and Senate approved starting positions over the last few weeks.

If the leaders of these so-called conference committees get stuck — on how to allocate money for tax cuts, education, health and human services, public safety, infrastructure projects and other spending — legislative leaders will step in.

“It is going to be tough work. It is going to be around the clock up here,” Walz said at a Monday morning news conference on the Capitol lawn. “They are going to have to reach some compromises.”

In past years, top lawmakers have faced criticism for making last minute budget decisions behind closed doors. Leaders suggested this year the process would be more transparent.

“I don’t think anybody wants just three or four people making these final decisions,” said Sen. Miller, R-Winona. “We’ve heard that loud and clear. We set the framework with some high-level parameters for the conference committees.”

Top Democrats and Republicans both demurred when asked about further specifics of the deal they struck over the weekend and announced Monday. The new spending comes from a $9.25 billion budget surplus and future tax collections that are expected to remain above government forecasts.

“We have people on these conference committees who are subject matter experts,” said House Majority Leader Rep. Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley. “They know what can move around in bills to accommodate as many priorities as possible.”

Miller added that lawmakers should: “focus on the areas of agreement. There is not much time to get this done before the end of session.”

Time is a significant hurdle, lawmakers say the more complex bills will need to be agreed to by Wednesday in order for the Office of the Revisor to draft and check legislation.

It’s important to note that, despite the sweeping deal, the state budget doesn’t have to change. The current spending plan expires June 2023.

Here are the top issues included in Monday’s deal:


The historic $9.25 billion budget surplus announced earlier this year is mostly due to larger than expected income, corporate and sales taxes. Tax collections also continue to come in higher than forecast, but there is significant caution about the state of the economy.

The budget deal allocates $4 billion for tax reductions over the next three years with $1.4 billion spent next year and $2.4 billion in the 2023-24 budget. That suggests the ongoing impact would lower revenues by about $1.2 billion a year going forward.

Republicans want to cut the first tier income tax that now stands at 5.35 percent. Democrats want credits and write-offs for low- and middle-income families and Walz has pushed for rebate checks to taxpayers.

Both parties support lowering taxes on Social Security benefits.


School spending will grow by $1 billion over the next three years under the agreement. The commitment comes after lawmakers increased the education budget by about $1 billion last year.

Democrats have pushed for spending new money on student supports with a big focus on mental health. Many students continue to struggle after two years of the coronavirus pandemic — when schools faced closures and many were forced to learn remotely.

Republicans say they want to focus on improving student literacy. They fear the state is losing ground after recent proficiency tests showed a little more than half of students met reading standards.

School districts have lobbied lawmakers for years to increase funding for special education services, which are mandated by the state and federal government, but not fully funded. They’ve also asked for more money for student supports, including for those learning English.


Lawmakers committed $450 million over the next three years in new spending for public safety and the judiciary.

There’s already bipartisan support for pay raises for court workers and public defenders. Lawmakers also want to spend money on recruiting and retaining police officers and to help departments purchase body cameras.

Big differences remain on how to make policing more equitable and how respond to rising crime rates. Republicans want stiffer penalties, while Democrats think solutions need to address root causes of crime.


About $1 billion of the budget surplus will be used over the next three years to continue the state’s recovery from the coronavirus pandemic. Minnesota faces a dire staffing crisis of both medical workers and workers in long-term care.

Both Democrats and Republicans have proposed using state money to raise the wages of long-term care workers, personal care attendants and those who care for people with disabilities.

Long-term care advocates said last week there are more than 23,000 open positions statewide. About 40 nursing homes and 400 assisted living facilities risk closure if their financial situations do not improve.


Walz and legislative leaders have agreed to spend $1.5 billion on capital improvement projects under the budget bill, but so far they haven’t said what projects they will fund. About $1.4 billion will be in state borrowing and $150 million will come from the surplus.

The agreed-to amount would only cover about one-fourth of the $5.5 billion that state agencies and cities, counties and townships requested this year. Walz proposed a $2.7 billion package of land and building improvements in January.

Neither the House nor the Senate has unveiled what is commonly called a “bonding bill” so far this year.

House Capital Investment Committee Chair Fue Lee of Minneapolis said House DFLers could support an even more “robust” public infrastructure bill than Walz proposed, but Senate bonding committee Chair Tom Bakk, an independent from Cook, said he plans to focus on repairing and maintaining the state’s existing buildings and lands. “Let’s fix what we own,” he said, not new buildings.

For local governments, Bakk said he favors funding sewer and water projects, and roads and bridges.


About $1.3 billion of the budget deal will go toward other supplemental spending over the next three years. Legislative leaders did not provide specifics on how that money would be allocated.

There are a long list of priorities debated during this legislative session that were not mentioned by top lawmakers Monday when they laid out their plans. They include things like paid leave, lowering health care costs, aid for farmers, environmental protections and others.

The plans also leave a significant amount on the bottom-line for the next Legislature to allocate. State officials project a $4 billion surplus during the 2023-24 biennium if tax collections continue to outpace estimates.

Time is short to find agreement on the details of the deal announced Monday. The Legislature must adjourn next Monday and Walz has said he doesn’t want to call lawmakers back for a special session.

The Democratic governor expressed optimism the work could get done in the time allowed, but acknowledged there would be “some hard decisions.”

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