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State employees must get vaccine or take weekly COVID test to return to workplace

The governor's office announced the new policy Wednesday.

The State of Minnesota's nearly 41,000 employees will have to either be vaccinated or receive a weekly COVID-19 test in order to go back to the workplace.

Gov. Tim Walz's office, in announcing the new measure Wednesday afternoon, cited the continued spread of the COVID-19 virus "and its highly contagious variants" as the reasons for the new requirement.

“With the Delta variant rising across the state, Minnesotans deserve to feel confident in their safety and security in the workplace,” said Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan in the announcement. “Getting vaccinated is the best way to keep our workers safe, and I encourage all state agency employees to get their shot as soon as possible. It’s how we take care of each other as Minnesotans.”

Related: 71 of Minnesota's 87 counties have high or substantial community transmission of COVID

The state is the second-biggest employer in Minnesota with about 40,912 employees, according to the Department of Employment and Economic Development. It is bested only by Mayo Clinic, and ahead of large businesses such as Target, UnitedHealth, 3M and more.

However, FOX 9's Theo Keith points out the new policy won't necessarily apply to a large swath of them, at least right now.

How will the policy work?

By Sept. 8, state workers will have to show proof of vaccination and attest to their vaccination status. If a person is not vaccinated, they will be required to get a COVID-19 test at least once a week. They can continue to work on-site at public workplaces as long as they test negative.

The president of the Minnesota Association of Professional Employees (MAPE), which represents some state workers, said that while it is important to "work together to end this pandemic," there are still some unanswered questions. That includes testing logistics, and options for individuals who cannot get the vaccine.

"Now that we are involved, we will advocate for those improvements and look forward to working with the administration to ensure these improvements are made," the union's president said.

Walz's office notes new COVID-19 cases, which once appeared to be waning, are again on the rise, now up 574% per week compared to just a month ago. The delta variant is driving this surge, the governor's office says, and now makes up 90% of COVID cases sequenced in Minnesota.

Related: List of places in Minnesota that now require the COVID-19 vaccine

Walz, citing similar employee COVID-19 measures recently announced by businesses and universities, said the state is " leading by example" in its efforts to protect people and their communities. He also urged other businesses to institute similar requirements.

“Vaccination is the best way to keep employees and the people we serve safe and ensure the Delta variant does not derail our economic recovery,” he said.

Data show the three COVID vaccines currently authorized for emergency use are effective at preventing serious or deadly illness, and Walz's office says less than 0.2% of fully vaccinated Minnesotans have tested positive for COVID-19. However, there are indications fully vaccinated individuals can still spread the delta variant strain of COVID-19.

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