Torey Van Oot
Oct 7, 2021 - COVID

Most Minnesota agency employees compliant with vaccine mandate

Data: Minnesota Department of Management and Budget; Chart: Jared Whalen/Axios

A majority of state employees subject to the Walz administration's COVID-19 vaccine-or-test mandate have gotten a shot.

By the numbers: As of Sept. 28, 18,614 of the 25,357 qualifying state agency workers had submitted proof of vaccination, per Minnesota Department of Management and Budget data.

Still unclear is how many employees who declined to comply are facing unpaid leave and other disciplinary actions, as Fox9 notes.

Of note: Because the rule only applies to those who need to work in the office, the number of eligible workers can vary from week to week.

The bottom line: The numbers could preview adoption rates as vaccine mandates spread throughout the public and private sector.

Torey Van Oot
Sep 8, 2021 - News

Poll: Majority of Minnesotans fear back-to-school COVID case surge

Illustration of an apple wearing a covid mask.
Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

A majority of Minnesota adults (56%) are worried that the start of the school year will result in another surge of COVID-19 cases, according to a new Axios/Momentive poll.

Why it matters: The poll of more than 38,000 U.S. adults — including 1,056 Minnesotans — last month reflects the anxiety and tension many of us are feeling about another school year upended by the pandemic.

  • Already high COVID-19 case numbers are fueling concerns about classroom outbreaks and learning disruptions.

Driving the news: Most school districts statewide are back to in-person instruction as of this week.School districts across Minnesota are back to in-person instruction as of this week. Minneapolis schools start today and St. Paul tomorrow.

State of play: Without statewide mandates in place, parents and teachers are navigating a patchwork of masking and quarantining policies that vary by district.

  • And bus driver shortages, tied to broader pandemic pressure on the labor market, are forcing some schools to stagger start times and shuffle plans.

Between the lines: Anecdotally, we know many families are also concerned about what another year of class quarantines and closures will mean for students and working parents alike.

  • Those fears might be justified. Just days into the school year, Albert Lea had to send 290 kids home to quarantine due to an outbreak. There wasn't a mask mandate at the time.

Another example: Political operative Jen DeJournett tweeted recently that her vaccinated, mask-wearing 13-year-old daughter was forced to miss days at her Maple Grove charter school after a maskless, unvaccinated classmate who sat nearby tested positive. A negative test wasn't enough to get her back.

  • "As a mom, I’m going to lose my mind," she told Torey. "The [state] guidance is a mess and the local officials and local school nurses don't know what to do."

Plus, those mask mandates continue to divide Minnesotans: 52% of the roughly 280 local parents who responded to the poll question support them, while 38% are opposed. Another 9% supported mask mandates for unvaccinated students and staff.

  • The poll, conducted Aug. 16-26, suggests more opposition here than in some states with even higher case counts and bans prohibiting such COVID mitigation measures, including in Texas and Florida

What to watch: An influx of school and child care cases could create new demand for testing.

The bottom line: Experts say mitigation strategies, including masking, and continuing to vaccinate as many eligible Minnesotans as possible could help keep the year on track.

The data are from an Axios|Momentive online poll conducted August 16-25, 2021 among 38,251 adults ages 18 and older in the United States. The modeled error estimate for the full, national sample is plus or minus 1.0 percentage points.

Nick Halter
Aug 23, 2021 - News

Growing number of Twin Cities venues requiring proof of vaccination

The owners of Hark! Cafe stand arm in arm in their Minneapolis restaurant.
Owners Katherine Pardue (left) and Lisa Neumann stand in their Hark! Cafe. Photo courtesy of Hark! Cafe

The Minnesota State Fair isn't mandating proof of vaccination for visitors, but other Twin Cities hospitality businesses are doing so.

Driving the news: First Avenue, The Ordway and the Basilica Block Party have announced this month they are requiring either proof of full vaccination or proof a negative COVID test.

  • New plant-based Minneapolis restaurant Hark! Cafe is also requiring that indoor diners prove they've gotten vaccinated or a negative test.

The intrigue: Pro football teams are also following suit.

  • The Las Vegas Raiders became the first NFL team to mandate a vaccine for fans at their home games. Fans who get a dose at the gate will be allowed in, but must wear a mask.
  • The New Orleans Saints are also requiring a vaccine or negative test.

Will the Minnesota Vikings implement a similar policy for their first regular home game on Sept. 26?

  • "We'll keep monitoring the COVID situation in Minnesota and discussing a number of options over the next few weeks," said team spokesperson Jeff Anderson.
Nick Halter
Aug 20, 2021 - News

Twin Cities employers navigate return to office amid Delta's spread

Illustration of a water cooler, with the word "nope" bubbling up from the bottom.
Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Companies that push too hard to bring employees back to the office are at risk of losing workers. But so are companies that move to an all-remote model.

Driving the news: Some of the Twin Cities’ biggest employers — Target, U.S. Bank and Wells Fargo — have delayed their September return-to-office plans due to concerns about the Delta variant.

  • Meanwhile, others are still plotting to bring workers back Sept. 7.

The intrigue: How employers handle their return to office is a big factor in how they fare in the so-called “great resignation” that could result in 25% to 40% of employees nationwide quitting their jobs, according to surveys.

  • "I keep hearing from employers that they're sticking to their plan of coming back to the office. And my response to them is, 'Do you realize you're going lose about 10% to 15% of your people?' I don't know what the actual number is, but a certain segment of their employee base doesn’t want that," said Paul DeBettignies, a Twin Cities-based IT recruiter.

State of play: 51% of Minnesota companies are planning to hire for new jobs and another 48% are planning to fill vacant positions, according to a survey by human resources consulting firm Robert Half. In other words, almost every company is looking for workers.

  • "It's a situation where the employees — the talent — are holding a lot of cards that they haven't in prior years," said Kyle O’Keefe, Robert Half's senior regional director for Minnesota.

Between the lines: The 20-something workers are more likely to want to return to the office so they can be seen and advance their careers, DeBettignies said. The mid-career, established professionals are less interested in in-person work.

  • "I hear companies saying, particularly in the tech space, that we're going remote-only. They've got space but employees either don’t need to come in or they come in twice a month," he said. "I try to remind those folks they're probably going to lose 5% to 10% of their people. Because not everybody wants to work for a remote-only company."

The bottom line: Robert Half surveyed employees nationally in April and found that 34% currently working from home due to the pandemic would look for a new job if they were required to be in the office five days a week.

  • "The organizations that remain nimble and flexible will be able to retain, attract and engage their workforce," O'Keefe said. "I would hesitate on bringing some sort of one-size-fits-all approach."
Torey Van Oot
Aug 19, 2021 - News

Minneapolis' vaccine message goes viral with TikTok videos

screenshot from minneapolis city viral tiktok
A cheeky post on vaccine hesitancy has been viewed more than 200,000 times. Screenshot: @CityMinneapolis/TikTok

The city of Minneapolis' latest effort to urge residents to get their COVID-19 shots is going viral.

Driving the likes: Pro-vaccination posts to the city's TikTok account have racked up hundreds of thousands of views and tens of thousands of likes on the social media platform in recent days.

Why it matters: TikTok can help governments and public health authorities reach younger people who might tune out other, more traditional PSAs.

  • State data shows vaccination rates among teens — and even those under age 49 — lag older populations.
  • While TikTok doesn't give a breakdown of audience by age, Jordan Gilgenbach, Minneapolis' social media officer and star of the @cityminneapolis account, said most of the comments come from the under-35 set.

Of note: The city of Minneapolis was one of the first government agencies to join TikTok back in 2019.

What they're saying: "I've got a very targeted audience that is at big risk and has the tools to be at less risk, and isn’t taking advantage of it," Gilgenbach told Torey.

The bottom line: While individual doctors (and anti-vaxxers) have attracted large followings, many municipalities and public health authorities remain wary of the platform's more casual vibe. Gilgenbach thinks that's a mistake.

  • "There's so much potential here for brands to be relatable in a way that feels organic to the platform, that's not boring," he said.
Torey Van Oot
Aug 18, 2021 - News

Minnesota State Fair won't require masks, proof of vaccination

huge crowd of people at the minnesota state fair
Large crowds at the state fair in 2019. Photo: Judy Griesedieck/Star Tribune via Getty Image

The Minnesota State Fair will not mandate masks or proof of vaccination for fairgoers this year.

What's new: Fair officials announced Wednesday that while both precautions are strongly encouraged, they won't be required when the fair opens Aug. 26.

Why it matters: The Great Minnesota Get-Together typically attracts millions of people over its 12-day run. Concerns about the Delta variant had prompted some to call for mandates to protect the safety of attendees and reduce the risk of spread.

What they're saying: Fair officials said mandating masks across the fairgrounds "would be extremely difficult for our organization to enforce."

  • "We ask that those who attend do so because they are willing to follow our health guidance — not because it's mandated, but because it's the right thing to do," organizers said in a statement.

What to watch: It remains to be seen whether the decision impacts attendance. Fair officials acknowledged that "by urging rather than requiring people to follow current guidance, many of our usual fair fans will not be comfortable attending."

  • "The current health situation is not an ideal backdrop for the Great Minnesota Get-Together tradition," the statement reads.

Spike in COVID cases, Delta variant threaten Minnesota's fall fun

Illustration of a calendar with the letter delta on every date.
Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Vaccines gave us our summer back. Now, Delta and other variants are threatening to steal our fall.

What's happening: A rise in cases and concerns about Delta's transmissibility have prompted major companies and institutions to reevaluate return-to-office plans and COVID-prevention policies, including mask and vaccine mandates.

Torey Van Oot
Aug 13, 2021 - News

University of Minnesota to require COVID-19 shots for students

person walking across u of m campus
Photo: Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

The University of Minnesota Board of Regents voted Friday to mandate COVID-19 vaccinations for students.

Why it matters: The requirement, which takes effect once the Food and Drug Administration grants full approval for the shots, impacts tens of thousands of students at the system's five schools, including the flagship Twin Cities campus.

  • Faculty and staff who aren't vaccinated will be asked to "commit to COVID-19 testing on a regular schedule to be determined."
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