Walz warns State Fair attendance will suffer without COVID restrictions

 Gov. Tim Walz said the Minnesota State Fair should have COVID-19 restrictions in place or attendance for the Great Minnesota Get Together will suffer.

Though the governor's comments made clear where he stood, the State Fair Board has ultimate control over mitigation measures. Currently, the fair will not require visitors to be vaccinated or wear masks.

"If people don’t feel there’s going to be mitigation efforts in place at the state fair, that’s going to pull back down some of the attendance," Walz told reporters when asked if he planned to get involved. "We’re watching what they’re doing. We still have time here. I know it’s getting a little later. We still have time."

The fair is scheduled to run Aug. 26 through Sept. 6 and annually draws 2 million people. Organizers canceled it last year because of the pandemic. The 2021 fair has been viewed as a return to normalcy, though Minnesota is in its fourth COVID wave.

Walz considering vaccine mandate for state workers

The governor said a vaccine mandate is on the table for Minnesota's state employees returning to the office. A formal announcement will come later this week, he said.

Walz appears likely to use a combination of approaches, asking state workers to be vaccinated before returning or submit to regular testing.

"We are right now in negotiations, if you will, of trying to come up with what is the best, safest way of how our employees can return -- keeping themselves, their families and others safe," Walz said.

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, a potential Republican candidate for governor, criticized the possibility of a mandate, calling it "divisive and unproductive."

As hospitalizations rise, hospital workers seek pandemic pay

The number of hospitalized Minnesotans has tripled in recent weeks, standing at 333 people on Tuesday, up from 90 in mid-July. That figure is lower than any previous COVID wave.

Tuesday, hospital workers were at the state Capitol asking lawmakers for a piece of $250 million in pandemic pay for the hardships they endured in previous surges. An advisory panel faces a Sept. 6 panel to make a recommendation to the Legislature about who to include and who to leave out.

"Our frontline workers a few weeks ago, they were seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. And now there is a sense of desperation, and they are exhausted," said Mary Krinkie of the Minnesota Hospital Association.

Brianne Bernini, an emergency department technician and Park Nicollet Methodist Hospital, told lawmakers she got COVID last fall. While quarantining in part of her home away from her husband, she suffered a family tragedy.

"Before my quarantine ended, my husband passed away suddenly and tragically," she said. "COVID took away the last two weeks that I would’ve spent with him."

Vaccination rate rises

Minnesota's vaccination rate has been increasing for a month, a combination of workplace vaccination mandates, incentives, and fears over rising infections. Minnesota is vaccinating an average of 6,200 people a day, up from 2,900 in mid-July.

Hennepin Healthcare became the latest Minnesota health system to require its employees get vaccinated by the fall, joining Allina Health, M Health Fairview and HealthPartners, among others.

More than 30,100 newly vaccinated Minnesotans have claimed $100 Visa gift cards that Minnesota is offering, shattering expectations and the original budget.

Walz initially set aside $2.5 million but the state has since added another $13.8 million in federal money for vaccine incentives. The current program runs through Sunday, and Walz didn't rule out another incentive program in the future.