Minnesota to require COVID shots or tests for state workers

Published 4:44 pm Wednesday, August 11, 2021

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Minnesota state government employees will be required to prove they’ve been vaccinated against COVID-19 or agree to undergo weekly testing before they can return to the office, Gov. Tim Walz announced Wednesday.

State agency employees who work in person will be required to show proof of vaccination and attest to their immunization status by Sept. 8, the announcement said. Employees who haven’t been vaccinated by then will be required to test negative for the coronavirus at least once a week to work on site.

“Vaccination is the best way to keep employees and the people we serve safe and ensure the delta variant does not derail our economic recovery,” Walz, a Democrat, said in the statement.

Walz administration officials met before the announcement with leaders of the state’s public employee unions to discuss how the new requirements will be implemented. The two biggest unions representing state government workers said they still have questions. About 57% of the state’s 35,700 executive branch employees are currently required to be in the office.

The Democratic governor noted that many other Minnesota employers, health systems, the University of Minnesota and other colleges have announced similar requirements for their workers and students. The new requirement also applies to faculty and staff at schools in the separate Minnesota State college and university system.

According to the governor’s office, at least seven other states have adopted similar rules, as has the military and other parts of the federal government.
Walz imposed the vaccination and testing requirements as the state experiences a steady increase in COVID-19 cases, driven almost entirely by the highly contagious delta variant. The overwhelming majority of new cases are among unvaccinated Minnesotans.

Breakthrough cases represent just a tiny fraction of the state’s immunized population, according to figures released Tuesday by the Minnesota Department of Health. Less than 0.2% of fully vaccinated Minnesotans have tested positive for the virus and even smaller proportions have been hospitalized or died because of the disease — figures that back up health officials who stress that vaccines save lives and prevent serious illnesses.

The pace of vaccinations has picked up as new cases and concern about the delta variant have grown. Minnesota providers more than doubled the number of first doses administered last week compared with their lowest point in July. More than 3 million Minnesota residents have completed the vaccine series, or nearly 70% of the population 16 and older, department figures show.

The governor’s announcement included a reminder that unvaccinated Minnesotans who get their first shot between July 30 and Aug. 15 can go to a state website to claim a $100 gift card as a reward.

The Minnesota Association of Professional Employees, which represents about 15,000 white-collar workers, said in a statement that it will work “to ensure that members who cannot, or choose not to, be vaccinated are able to continue working with mitigations that protect everyone’s safety through masking and testing.”

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 5, which represents more than 18,000 state workers, said it would keep working to address their concerns while promoting the safety and efficacy of vaccines to its members.

“In light of the resurgence of the COVID-19 virus, we will continue to work with all employers to ensure that workers’ voices, ideas, and concerns are truly heard in the decision-making process with regard to vaccine and testing mandates, their impacts, and questions/concerns regarding the implementation of the mandate,” Julie Bleyhl, the union’s executive director, said in a statement.

Republicans in the Legislature reacted coolly to the vaccine mandate. The requirements do not apply to the Legislature. The Republican-controlled Senate continues to let staff and members work remotely and to choose whether to wear masks or get vaccinated. The Democratic-controlled House imposed a mask mandate on Tuesday.

“Vaccines are widely available for those who want them and are incredibly effective at preventing the spread and impact of COVID,” Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, of East Gull Lake, said in a statement. “A vaccination mandate is divisive and unproductive.”