MN Government Updates 04.29

Walz, Peterson Address Meat Processing Facility Challenges

Today, Governor Tim Walz, Congressman Collin Peterson (D-MN), chairman of the U.S. House Agriculture Committee, and other state and federal officials held a press conference in Worthington to address concerns regarding the impact of COVID-19 on meat processing facilities in southwestern Minnesota. Much of the focus was on the JBS pork processing plant, which recently has seen an outbreak in COVID-19 cases.

Congressman Collin Peterson

  • Congressman Peterson announced that he’s created a group with the governor’s office, JBS plant management, JBS union leadership, the Department of Agriculture, and the Department of Health to provide information to Secretary Sonny Perdue of the U.S. Department of Agriculture about what is needed to get JBS reopen again.
  • Peterson noted that he’s working on legislation in the U.S. House that will allow for farmers to be reimbursed for having to euthanize otherwise healthy animals.
  • The congressman also said that JBS is reengineering its plant to euthanize the hogs using the same procedure as it does when slaughtering. JBS has agreed to euthanize the animals at its expense.
  • Peterson made a point to say that, “We are about three weeks away from not having pork on the shelves in grocery stores.”
  • When asked when the JBS plant will reopen, Peterson responded that Secretary Perdue wants it open in 2-3 days, but that it may not be that soon.
  • When asked how many JBS workers are sick from COVID-19, Peterson responded that 200-some workers have tested positive for COVID-19. According to the congressman, the number of people who have COVID-19 IN Nobles County is the same per capita as New York City.

Governor Tim Walz

  • Governor Walz said that the experience of the JBS plant showed that the state can get on the front end of an outbreak.
  • The governor said that Minnesota needs to be processing food for the country. It’s important to get plants up and running, but the only way to do is to ensure worker safety, “We can and will protect the workers and get the plant up and running and get things processed.”
  • When asked about the extension of the “Stay at Home” executive order that expires on Sunday evening, the governor responded that he’ll make an announcement tomorrow afternoon. He said that Minnesotans will see the state “continuing on pace to more opening if we can social distance and the state stepping up the testing.”

Agriculture Commissioner Thom Petersen

  • Commissioner Petersen noted that farmers have been having trouble for five years. Things were beginning to look better at the beginning of the year with trade agreements coming through, but this situation is a “gut punch” to farmers.
  • He said that hogs are being moved to other plants who have the capacity to process them.
  • The Department of Agriculture has two programs that can assist producers
  • The commissioner said that this department is working with Board of Animal Health to deal with euthanizing animals.

Minnesota Department of Health Briefing

Given the governor’s press conference in Worthington earlier in the day, he did not did not participate in today’s Minnesota Department of Health briefing.

Commissioner Jan Malcolm

  • Commissioner Malcolm announced the state has 4,645 laboratory-confirmed cases of COVID-19. There has been intense testing in southwest Minnesota.
  • The state had had 18 more fatalities due to COVID-19 – bring the total to 319 deaths in Minnesota.
  • Currently, 320 patients are hospitalized with 119 in the ICU.
  • When asked what how she is advising the governor for next steps regarding the “Stay at Home” order, the commissioner responded that the department is sharing data with the governor about social distancing and disease progression. She said the governor’s decision will be guided by how well social distancing is working, the spread of the disease, and what strategies are in place to protect the most vulnerable.
  • When asked if Department of Health is on track to have enough ICU beds for the peak, Commissioner Malcolm responded, “Yes. That’s certainly one of the metrics the governor has been focused on.”

Director Joe Kelly, Homeland Security and Emergency Management Division

  • Director Kelly said that his division is setting up temporary health care facilities. This is where non-critical patients will be cared for. Hospital patients belong in real hospitals so these care sites will only be used if there are no other options.
  • He also noted that the governor and the State Emergency Operations Center have finalized a lease agreement for an alternate care site in Roseville.
  • Presbyterian Homes-Langton Shores has been identified to be an appropriate setting to provide low-level medical care or monitoring, should it ever be needed during the COVID-19 pandemic to address hospital capacity issues.
  • The facility will not be designed for walk-up medical care, nor as a COVID-19 treatment facility. It has the capacity to handle up to 100 beds.

Commissioner Steve Grove, Department of Employment and Economic Development

  • Commissioner Grove announced that all three expansions of the federal CARES Act are up and running.
  • Since March 16, over 500,000 applications for unemployment insurance have been submitted.
  • The commissioner noted his department is building up a framework on how to safely return people to work.
  • Additionally, there are health screenings for people to use. More information is available here.

Legislature Reconvenes Tomorrow

Tomorrow, both the House and Senate are scheduled to convene for their floor sessions at 9:00 a.m. Both bodies also have remote committee hearings scheduled throughout the day.

Amos A. Briggs | Government Relations
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