Turning a pandemic corner? Skepticism remains

Turning a pandemic corner? Skepticism remains

By Jane McClure

Even though Minnesota may be seeing success in efforts to combat COVID-19, many people still need their vaccines. All during May Minnesota health officials stepped up their efforts to vaccinate vulnerable communities including people with disabilities, racial minorities, people who don’t speak English and people who are out of work.

Efforts to accommodate people with disabilities include interpretation services, allowing drive-up vaccines and promoting use of the “one and done” Johnson and Johnson vaccines

A large mass vaccination site at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds was closing in on 90,000 vaccines as may drew to a close. The site will remain in place through June 8.

From May 26 to June 8, the site will be administering the single-dose Johnson and Johnson vaccine. Walk-ups are welcome from noon to 8 p.m. each day, but Minnesotans can also make appointments at mn.gov/covid19/vaccine/find-vaccine/statefairvaccine/

For accommodation requests at the fairgrounds site, call the Department of Health COVID-19 Public Hotline at 1-833-431-2053 between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m., Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. on Saturdays. American Sign Language (ASL) will be available on-site.

Efforts continue throughout Minnesota to make people aware of vaccine availability, community clinics and the need to get shots.

Almost 3 million Minnesotans age 16 and older have received at least one shot, with 2.4 million receiving the required number of doses. In May the vaccines were opened to people age 12 and older, setting off a scramble for parents who’d been waiting to have younger children vaccinated.

The state has had almost 600,000 people test positive for coronavirus, with more than 7,300 deaths, since the pandemic began more than a year ago..

Gov. Tim Walz had significant adjustments to the state’s pandemic and masking regulations in May, although cities including Minneapolis and St. Paul kept their mask regulations in place. Relaxation of the requirement, which was done in accordance with federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines, has caused some confusion as well as frustration.

The CDC said in May  that people who are fully vaccinated no longer have to wear masks outside or inside in most cases. That covers anyone who is fully vaccinated, as in two weeks out from their second shot if they got a Moderna or Pfizer vaccine, or their only shot if they got a Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

The exceptions are if someone is in a hospital, long-term care facility or other medical facility. Schools have mask guidelines until the end of the academic year. Anyone on transit or a plane needs to mask up. Individual retailers can also opt to continue to require masks, although the numbers of national retailers doing so dropped steadily.

Walz’ decision reverses an earlier announcement that he’d drop the state mask mandate on July 1, or when 70 percent of Minnesotans 16 or older had been vaccinated, whichever came first. The state still isn’t at 70 percent vaccination.

The governor and the state’s Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm both said they were surprised by the federal announcement. Both urged Minnesotans who haven’t been vaccinated to do so.

Disability groups have been scrambling to share information, look at program changes and decide on next steps. Some, such as Can Do Canines and Down Syndrome Association of Minnesota, have announced returns to in-person  programs and activities in June. Others are

Others are staying on top of a rapidly shifting regulatory landscape. ARRM in late May held a conference call with the Minnesota Departments of Health and Human Services to discuss the changes to the state mask mandate and what it means for home and community-based services and intermediate care facilities. The call can be accessed, along with COVID-19 data, at www.arrm.org/resource-center/covid19

Stay abreast of pandemic information at the MDH webpage, which is updated constantly. Go to https://www.health.state.mn.us/diseases/coronavirus/situation.html