Star Tribune, MInneapolis, Oct. 24

Now is not the time to relax on COVID-19

Minnesotans don’t put away the snowplows, shovels and parkas for the season after a warm stretch of days in January. Snow and dangerous cold are still likely for several months to come. Winter sets its departure date, no matter how much we long for spring blossoms and balmy breezes.

Wishful thinking is similarly ineffective against COVID-19. This new strain of coronavirus has been spreading around the world for almost a year, leaving personal and economic pain in its wake. Everyone is weary. Everyone wants to go back to normal. But the virus is still dictating the terms and will do so until a safe, effective vaccine is widely available sometime next year. This is not the time to let down our collective guard.

COVID metrics in Minnesota and elsewhere are driving home that reality, taking a grim, recent turn for the worse. No, the nation is not “rounding the corner,” as President Donald Trump said during last week's debate. Nor is it time to haphazardly “open up Minnesota,” as state Republican legislative leaders called for last week during an ill-informed, ill-timed news conference.

That event, held at the State Capitol, was the unfortunate equivalent of giving Minnesotans the green light to take off snow tires as a blizzard blew in. On Thursday, health officials reported 35 new deaths from COVID in Minnesota, a high-water mark not seen since May. Cases have been surging for several weeks here, and the rising number of hospitalizations and fatalities undercuts those who dismiss more cases as an artifact of additional testing.

There are flashing red lights, as well, on regional and national dashboards. Hard-hit Wisconsin activated a field hospital, and seven of its cities (as of Oct. 23) were on the New York Times’ top 10 list of metro areas where the outbreak is the worst. Two other cities on the national list are in North Dakota.

The national tally of cases is increasing sharply, too. “More than 75,000 new cases were reported in the United States on (Oct. 22), the second-highest daily total nationwide since the pandemic began,” according to the Times. There is more testing, to be sure, but hospitalizations are also rising rapidly. More than 41,000 people now need hospital care in the U.S., up 40% over past month.

With indoor air thought to play a major role in spreading the virus, cold weather’s approach has experts deeply concerned. “These next 12 weeks are going to be the darkest of the pandemic,” said Mike Osterholm of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy.

At this point, the low-tech tool kit of wearing a mask, socially distancing and staying home when ill, along with state guidelines limiting gatherings, remains vitally important to contain the virus. These measures work best when compliance is high. That’s why it’s critical to add context to several overly optimistic points cited by GOP leaders as they argued to open up the state:

• That COVID treatment has improved. Yes, but none of the new treatments or procedures is a cure or guarantee. Dr. Dimitri Drekonja, of the University of Minnesota, likened the advances to wearing a Kevlar vest into battle: You still need to worry about injury and death in a battle zone.

• That there’s more personal protective gear for health care workers. State stockpiles are stronger, but the Minnesota Nurses Association (MNA) is still concerned about availability for front-line workers. Suggesting that this is resolved is “misinformed, disrespectful and dangerous,” MNA President and ICU nurse Mary C. Turner said.

• That in-classroom instruction and school sports have a vital role in education. Yes, but the science on whether it’s safe to resume classroom education is just emerging and both caution and expertise are needed to interpret findings. Viral spread in schools also tends to reflect community spread, so one area’s experience may not be applicable elsewhere. State health officials have additionally identified 57 suspected COVID outbreaks linked to high school sports.

Minnesota GOP leaders did not respond to an editorial writer’s request for comment this week. Their desire for normalcy is understandable. But this is a time to call for patience and endurance, not risky shortcuts, to get through the winter ahead.

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Mankato Free Press, Mankato, Oct. 24

Cheers to Mankato brewery's fundraising effort

Thumbs up to the continuation of a cancer fundraiser being sponsored by Mankato Brewery and Lupulin Brewing Co. in Big Lake.

The breweries are teaming up to produce the limited-edition Hazy Hero IPA, with proceeds going to the Jonathan Zierdt Cancer Fund. Zierdt, the former head of Greater Mankato Growth, waged a long, very public battle with cancer, which eventually took his life last year.

Zierdt also spearheaded the growMANkato effort to raise awareness about men’s health. Zierdt’s brother, Jeff, is owner of Lupulin Brewing.

This will be the third year the two breweries are teaming up to produce a limited beer that will allow people to enjoy a local brew while knowing the proceeds are going to a great cause.

Fortunately, Jonathan Zierdt was able to see the first batch of Hero IPA rolled out. The continuing fundraising and education efforts aimed at men’s health is a tribute to Zierdt’s life and his public sharing of his story.

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St. Cloud Times, St. Cloud. Oct. 24

When you vote, think of Alec Smith

Ten days before an election is when you’d expect to find a biting analysis of the latest presidential debate, or another blast about soft money fueling out-of-control campaign advertising in this space.

Not now. We’re not even going to spend a lot of words urging civility in the runup to the most contentious national election in a lifetime.

We are, however, going to cite an example of what’s at stake — how your vote can make a life-or-death difference to real people. Real Minnesotans.

Back in April, both houses of the Minnesota Legislature passed the Alec Smith Insulin Affordability Act, authored by Rep. Michael Howard (DFL-Richfield). The bill was quickly signed into law by Gov. Tim Walz.

And with that, this nation’s only divided Legislature cooperated on action that makes life far less risky for almost 8% of their constituents — more than 330,000 people with diabetes.

Two parties, two houses of the Legislature and the executive branch, along with many passionate advocates, made law that will save lives.

They found common ground.

The law took effect July 1, rendering the comorbidities of diabetes and tight finances less lethal than they were three years earlier — when the bill’s namesake could only come up with $1,000 of the $1,300 he needed to buy the insulin he depended on to stay alive.

A Type 1 diabetic, 26 years old and a father, Alec Smith rationed what insulin he had. And he died one day in 2017 because, as his mother, Nicole Smith-Holt, put it to this Editorial Board, “he didn’t have the financial means to stay alive.”

He didn’t have the financial means to stay alive.

As of July 1, the law named after Alec Smith allows anyone with a prescription for insulin to go directly to their pharmacy and obtain an emergency supply for no more than $35. A second part of the act allows diabetics in financial straits to purchase 90-day supplies for no more than $50, for up to a year.

Advocate and insulin user Abigail Hansmeyer told our board she would normally pay about $647 for two vials of insulin, a drug that is far from new to the market and which sells for about $35 per vial in Canada.

Huge price spikes by the three companies that dominate about 90% of the insulin market sparked the crisis, so the Minnesota law makes the companies responsible for covering the cost of supplying the insulin to patients in need.

Before you feel too sorry for those companies, be aware: They have sued the state over this law.

Another salient point: The discoverers of insulin, Frederick Banting and Charles Best, sold their patent to the University of Toronto in 1922 for $1. One dollar — because they believed it was important to save lives.

Having passed at the height of the first onslaught of COVID-19 and having taken effect in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death, word of Alec’s law has had a tough time getting out, even to pharmacists, doctors and patients. So we’re asking you to help spread the word. The details are at www.mninsulin.org.

And then we’ll ask you whether this is the kind of work you’d like lawmakers to get done. If it is, vote that way. Vote for people of principle who know when it’s time to work together to help the people who elected them.

This is what you’re voting for: Government that gets things done, interfering only when proven necessary.

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