ST. PAUL — As nurses are asked to make their own masks and emergency responders improvise solutions to keep patients safe, Minnesota still has not received any medical supplies from the federal government to help battle the COVID-19 pandemic.
On Wednesday, April 1, state health officials said they'd received no requested medical supplies from the federal government and that asks from the state's Congressional delegation had not yet been fulfilled. On a Thursday press call, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said she hasn't even received an estimated time of arrival for supplies.
Meanwhile, Melvin Carter, mayor of Minnesota's second-largest city of St. Paul, said the city is struggling to find supplies for their first responders. When they do find a supplier, he said the prices are inflated several times over. He said some first responders have run out of thermometer covers to take patients' temperatures, and have been forced to use plastic wrap instead in what he called a "safe but clearly problematic solution."
Outside of the Twin Cities, Klobuchar said rural Minnesota is starting to see the impacts of this "in a big way." In Martin County alone, three have died. Without enough personal protective equipment for health care workers and ventilators for patients in rural hospitals, she said "it's going to be bad."
State health officials reported Thursday that 742 people have tested positive for COVID-19 in Minnesota and 18 have died from the illness. They cautioned that totals likely undercount the number of Minnesotans who've contracted the disease.
Minnesota Hospital Association Vice President of Government Relations Mary Krinkie on Thursday told lawmakers that her organization could be running more tests, but didn't have the supplies to run them.
“We are pushing our congressional delegation weekly," Krinkie said. "We need the materials to do broader testing in our community.”
Klobuchar echoed this on Thursday's call, and added that increased testing can also help strapped health care workers determine around what patients they need to wear PPE, and when they can afford not to, since supplies are so low. And if health care workers know they've had COVID-19 but have made a full recovery, they know they could have immunity now. But none of that is possible without greater testing.
Also on Thursday, the 10-person bipartisan state delegation penned a letter to federal health officials, asking that the Department of Human Services free up flexibility in the Medicaid program. Recent changes made Medicaid requirements stricter, which they said could limit the state's ability to respond to the pandemic.
Members of the state's delegation on Thursday also called for fixes to a federal aid package aimed at cushioning the economic blow caused by the pandemic. Rep. Angie Craig, a Democrat representing the state's 2nd Congressional District, in a news conference presented legislation that would allow parents to receive $500 in federal assistance for children attending college, dependents up to 19 years of age and children of any age with disabilities.
Federal legislation approved last month carried an age cut off at 16 for the rebate.
"It's really going to affect working families or those who are struggling right now and I don't believe this was the intention of the Senate," Craig told reporters on Thursday. "That has been something that we’re working to change just as quickly as is possible."
Craig said she wasn't sure when Congress would push forward the next phase of COVID-19 response funding, but hoped her legislation would be included. She said 101 lawmakers had signed on as of Thursday. The congresswoman also said lawmakers should prioritize funding support for small businesses, as well as mid-sized and small communities, that were left out of prior aid packages.
Minnesota Department of Health COVID-19 hotline: 651-201-3920.
School and childcare hotline: 651-297-1304 or 800-657-3504.
MDH COVID-19 website: Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) website.