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Gov. Tim Walz will hold a press conference Wednesday morning to announce a series of measures to support Minnesota's hospital systems as it deals with the COVID surge driven by the omicron variant.

The governor will give an address at a Twin Cities hospital alongside health commissioner Jan Malcolm, which comes as hospitals brace themselves for another spike in COVID hospitalizations.

After a dip in hospitalizations over the Christmas period, they have started to rise again as the extremely transmissible omicron variant takes hold in Minnesota, with the latest figures showing that hospitalizations jumped from 1,435 to 1,528 between Jan. 7 and 10.

While studies are finding that omicron produces less serious illness compared to the delta variant particularly in vaccinated people, the enhanced transmissibility means more Minnesotans than ever are contracting the virus, and this, in turn, has the potential to push COVID hospitalizations to record levels.

As of Sunday, there were 33 staff ICU beds available statewide, but just four in the Twin Cities metro, which has so far bore the brunt of omicron cases.

Around 45% of Minnesota's 130 hospitals are reporting having zero non-ICU beds available, while 74% of Minnesota's 68 ICU hospitals have zero ICU beds.

In recent months, the Walz Administration has opened two "alternate care sites" to help with hospital surges, with the facilities in Shakopee and Brainerd supported by National Guard federal medical staff to alleviate the strain on hospitals by taking in patients who no longer need acute emergency care, but who aren't well enough to go home.

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On Tuesday, Walz also announced his office will expedite funding for staffing in nursing homes, group homes, and in-home services for people with disabilities, which comes amid a severe staffing shortage as more and more Minnesotans are contracting or being exposed to the virus and have to quarantine.

This move will make $83 million in state and federal funds available for nursing and group homes to cover emergency costs that help them maintain their workforce.

The state will also increase its payment rates to nursing homes temporarily by 5%, while direct support services for people with disabilities will also get a 5% rate boost from March through May.

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