With the highly-transmissible Omicron variant driving a considerable surge in COVID infections across the state, Senate DFL Leader Melisa López Franzen and Senator Melissa Wiklund today renewed their call for the Senate Republican majority to dramatically expand COVID protections in Senate-controlled areas of the State Capitol complex and the Minnesota Senate Building, saying the current approach puts Senators, staff, the visiting public and even taxpayers at risk.
In a letter Friday to Senate Republican Leader Jeremy Miller, Sens. López Franzen and Wiklund said the transmission rate in Ramsey County – where the Capitol resides – is more than five times the rate of infections needed to be considered a “high transmission area.” A high transmission area requires an infection rate of over 100 cases per 100,000 residents. This week, Ramsey County has seen infections surge to 535 cases per 100,000. The Senators also warned Sen. Miller that Minnesota taxpayers would be on the hook for penalties incurred if the Senate doesn’t comply with federal vaccination and testing requirements for Senate staff.
“Without basic mitigation measures in place, the Senate cannot provide a safe workplace for our staff, members, and the Minnesotans who visit and do business at the Capitol,” wrote the Senators. “When safety is left up to individual decisions rather than a Senate-wide protocol, we put at risk those most in need of protection and allow the behavior of others to jeopardize a safe workplace.”
In December, the Senate DFL Caucus urged the Senate Republican majority to follow the guidance of the Center for Disease Control (CDC) for implementing safety measures in Senate-controlled areas of the Capitol. That guidance calls for everyone in high transmission areas, even vaccinated individuals, to wear face coverings in indoor settings.
At the end of December, Senate Secretary Cal Ludeman notified Senators and Senate employees that the Senate building would reopen in January with no requirement that CDC safety guidance be followed in any Senate areas, including on the Senate floor, in committee hearings, or any public spaces.
The Senators also pressed to ensure that Senate staff comply with federal emergency vaccination and testing requirements, saying both are “crucial tools” in preventing the spread of COVID. If the Senate majority ignores the requirements, it is subject to financial penalties that Minnesota taxpayers would be forced to cover, the Senators said.
“The Senate ignoring this public health requirement will potentially cost Minnesota taxpayers a significant amount in penalties,” the Senators wrote. “The Senate’s continued disregard for basic infection prevention measures continues to prolong a pandemic that Minnesotans are desperate to get beyond.”