Minneapolis Star Tribune. June 21, 2021.

Editorial: On vaccine, above average just won’t do

16 other states beat Minnesota to 70% COVID vaccination goal.

Vermont, Hawaii and Massachusetts have long been public health superstars. So it wasn’t surprising to see this trio beat Minnesota across a critical threshold — 70% of adults having at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

But there’s long list of other states that have already achieved this as well. Minnesota has long been considered public health powerhouse. Yet while we’re hovering at 69%, 16 states, plus Guam and the District of Columbia, have surpassed the national 70% target.

To be clear, Minnesota isn’t in a bad place for vaccinations, with more than 3 million people having received one vaccine dose. But a state that’s home to world-class medical centers and public health expertise shouldn’t be content with above-average performance. We should be near the front of the pack.

State Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm acknowledges that expectation and notes that public health professionals under her direction share that competitive instinct. “This is something Minnesota should be a leader on,″ she said in an interview with an editorial writer on Monday. “We’re gonna keep at it until we get there.″

New strategies are needed to improve vaccine batting average in Minnesota and elsewhere.

Earlier this year, the Biden administration set a goal of hitting 70% by July 4. Nationally, about 65% of Americans 18 and up have had at least one dose of the COVID vaccine. That national average looks promising but obscures the wide variation among states. Vermont, Hawaii and Massachusetts are at 84%, 82% and 81%, respectively. Shockingly, four states — Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana and Wyoming — are below 50%.

There’s also variation within Minnesota, according to the state Department of Health’s vaccine tracker. Hennepin County is at nearly 77% of those 16 and up with at least one dose. Most of the big metro counties have crossed the 70% mark, too.

Rural counties tend to lag, with Todd County in north-central Minnesota posting a disappointing 38.2%. At the same time, Cook County in the state’s northeast arrowhead has the state’s highest vaccination rate — it’s currently 82%. It’s not simply an urban-rural divide.

So what worked in Cook County? Grace Grinager, its public health supervisor, credits exemplary teamwork between the area’s public health professionals, its medical providers and business and community leaders to highlight the vaccine’s importance and ensure access.

“It feels like we’ve never stopped talking. We’re not just trying not get our voice out there we’re trying to be proactive,” Grinager said.

If there’s a secret to Cook County’s success, it might well be the local voices involved. When there’s so much disinformation about COVID on social media, familiar voices remain trustworthy.

That’s why a recent move by Gov. Tim Walz to enlist “vaccine ambassadors” is commendable. Ambassadors range from Fergus Falls Mayor Ben Schierer to homegrown basketball phenomenon Lindsay Whalen.

Other leaders need to step up, too. Republican House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt merits praise for doing so recently. At a political conference, a medical organization asked him to share his vaccine story and he did, with the video now appearing in pop-up ads online.

Improving Minnesota’s vaccination standing isn’t just about bragging rights. Viral variants that are more transmissible and potentially make people sicker are emerging. Fresh ideas, voices and teamwork are needed.


St. Cloud Times. June 20, 2021.

Editorial: Summer is back! And so are our community festivals. Show up and show your support

Summer has arrived, and along with it the return of community festivals, outdoor concerts, parades and county fairs.

After last year’s closures and cancellations due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us are eager to get out and celebrate.

So this year, with what appears to be the beginning of a return to normalcy, let’s not take these community events for granted.

Hours and hours of planning and preparation by dozens — if not hundreds — of volunteers are what make these events possible. Even on short notice, when we all were unsure of what 2021 would bring in the early part of the year, community groups were planning events with numerous scenarios in mind to bring them back after a summer of quarantine.

It’s not easy to stage these events in any year. But reviving them after a hiatus complicates the commitment even further. It takes more work, more time, more money and more help to put these events on after a year of shutdown. If you can’t volunteer to help, you can attend to make these revived events a success.

A St. Cloud summer staple, Summertime by George kicks off Wednesday. In recent years, the multi-week concert series has entertained more than 100,000 attendees throughout the summer.

Then on Thursday, St. Cloud’s Granite City Days begins with the Lemonade Art Fair at St. Cloud State University. More events, like the Liberty Block Party, a parade and a 5K run are scheduled through Sunday.

Sauk Rapids’ Rapid River Days begins Thursday, too, with a pageant, parade and food festival.

“We’re excited about hosting something that’s open to the public where people can get together in person,” Mayor Dave Kleis told the Times last week about the preparations for Granite City Days. “It should be a great kickoff to summer and a great way to celebrate community after a year and a half of an extremely challenging time.”

After a more than a year of scaled-back and socially-distanced life, make it a point to get out this summer and get together again with your community. And don’t forget to thank the organizers and countless volunteers that make it happen.


Mankato Free Press. June 22, 2021.

Editorial: Policing: Make push for body cams, traffic stops

We’re glad to see bipartisan progress on various police reform proposals at the Legislature, and the long-overdue decision to supply the State Patrol with body cameras.

Now is the time to strike, as the compromising spirit is hot. And more, the House minority Republicans have agreed to stop their delaying tactics as if they’d talked to the Lady of Fatima to get “peace and comfort through times of uncertainty.”

Now it’s time to move forward on other police reform proposals, the most important being outlawing traffic stops for minor instances like a broken tail light or objects hanging from windshields. That was part of the reason Brooklyn Center police officer Kim Potter stopped Daunte Wright. That stop turned tragic when Potter shot and killed Wright thinking she was tazing him.

County attorneys and local law enforcement already have the power to change the rules on those traffic stops, and if the Legislature won’t or can’t do it, local units of government should. But a statewide mandate would make the policy uniform and build trust with all those who feel they are targeted by police.

In fact, some in the law enforcement community favor reducing the number of minor instances that call for traffic stops. Wright was going to be taken into custody for not appearing in a minor court case, a police action that would have required officers’ time to process. And unfortunately, Wright had not received the message or letter of when he was to appear. So a minor mistake became a major tragedy.

Police officers have much better things to spend their time on than minor traffic stops.

Other police reform efforts like removing limits on officer liability are more complicated and may need more time to work their ways through various committees with expertise.

It’s worth continuing those discussions in a non-budget year where the public can weigh in and show their legislators that they overwhelming support some of the measures.

Police reform will be one of the major accomplishments of the Legislature. Let’s hope well-meaning people can bring this across the finish line.