Vaccine Eligibility Expands, But Business Restrictions Linger
Nearly 2 million more Minnesotans will be eligible for a Covid-19 vaccination this week, Gov. Tim Walz announced on Tuesday.
With the state close to fulfilling its promise to vaccinate all residents 65 and above, Walz said that eligibility will expand to the next two groups in Minnesota’s vaccine rollout plan. Starting Wednesday, anyone aged 45 or older with at least one qualifying medical condition will be able to get a shot. Qualifying conditions include diabetes type 1 or 2, Sickle cell disease, cancer, and even pregnancy.
At the same time, Minnesota will also open up vaccinations for a host of essential front-line workers, including food service workers, public transit employees, and manufacturing workers.
These two groups make up about 1.8 million Minnesotans. As of Sunday, more than 1 million residents have already received at least one dose of the vaccine, according to the state’s vaccine dashboard. By the most recent U.S. Census estimates, Minnesota has a total population of more than 5.6 million.
In a Tuesday morning press conference, members of the Walz administration said the state’s vaccination rollout is proceeding much more quickly than initially expected. That’s due, in part, to recent federal approval of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine; Walz’s staff crafted its initial vaccination plan before that vaccine was approved.
Though the state’s vaccine rollout is proceeding more quickly than expected, Walz stopped short of providing any firm plans to end business restrictions, though he hinted that lockdowns will likely end soon. When asked if the Twins could expect to welcome fans back to Target Field for opening day on April 8, Walz said that his administration expects to provide guidance in a “very short amount of time,” which would likely be a matter of days.
But the governor said his team is still closely watching new coronavirus variants, which could delay any plans to end restrictions on businesses.
“We’re going to know in the next month whether … we’re in the eye of a hurricane,” Walz told reporters. “Does that hurricane dissipate? Or do we hit the other side of it? … That’s why this guidance is a little bit difficult right now.”
In the meantime, Walz urged Minnesotans to continue to wear masks, practice social distancing, and get Covid-19 tests.
In a separate press conference on Tuesday morning, Minnesota state rep. Dave Baker (R-Willmar) and Minnesota House minority leader Kurt Daudt called for a quicker end to business restrictions. Compared to other states’ rollbacks, Minnesota is “frankly lagging behind,” Daudt said.
“Now is the time to start opening and easing restrictions on our businesses as other states are already doing,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Medical Alley Association — the state’s med-tech trade group — issued a statement welcoming the faster vaccine rollout.
“Minnesota’s essential workers and companies provide critical technology and care to patients around the world, and we are prepared to work with the administration through the next phase of the Covid-19 vaccine rollout to ensure this supply chain remains intact,” said Steffen Hovard, the association’s interim CEO.