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What Biden's national COVID-19 plan might mean for Minnesota vaccinations and testing

As the President unveiled his plans for combatting COVID-19, KARE 11 asked two Minnesota stakeholders how, and when, it might make a difference.

MINNEAPOLIS — With more than 400,000 Americans now dead from COVID-19, and millions more still in search of a vaccine, President Biden promised action on his first full day in office.

"Help is on the way," Biden said. "Today I am unveiling a national strategy on COVID-19."

But even after signing a stack of ten new executive orders, and releasing a more detailed national plan online. Many Americans, including those on the front lines, say help can't come soon enough.

"I would say pharmacists are very frustrated," said Sarah Derr, Executive Director of the Minnesota Pharmacists Association. "We are hearing from our patients on a daily basis, asking how they can get vaccinated at the community level, and we don't have vaccinations so we can't give that to them at this point in time."

Derr says some of the frustration stems from confusion and miscommunication in recent weeks between the state and federal government. She says she's relieved to hear that President Biden is now calling on FEMA to help coordinate and mobilize at least 100 new federal mass vaccination sites in the next month. Biden says even more local support will follow in early February. 

"The centers for Disease control will launch the federal pharmacy program to make vaccines available to their communities in their local pharmacies," President Biden said.

"Pharmacists are here, we're eager, we're ready," Derr said. "It doesn't have to be in a pharmacy that we are doing these vaccinations. I've heard about people doing it at basketball stadiums or at a colleges, wherever they're at in that state. I think there's a lot of potential for us to assist, and we're ready and eager, but we need to have some direction and we need to have the right allocation of vaccine to our state."

And pharmacists aren't the only ones hoping to see the federal government follow through.

"A more coordinated response on a national level will help," said Dr. William Morice, President of Mayo Clinic Labs.

At the very least, Dr. Morice says the national plan should help clear up confusion, especially between states.

"With different criteria for vaccines, even for the Mayo Clinic, we have facilities in Minnesota, Arizona, Florida, Wisconsin, so for our own employees giving them guidance has been a challenge sometimes," Dr. Morice said. "So these are some things that will help. This is something we really can't solve in isolation."

The same goes for testing. Dr. Morice says federal leadership and research coordination could help everyone, even Minnesota, which stands out as one of the best states for testing availability, thanks to the partnership between the state, the University of Minnesota and the Mayo Clinic.

"There's still a lot of confusion about which test do I really need? Which test is going to be acceptable for me to get on an airplane? What do I do if I have a positive antigen test? Does that really mean that I'm going to be safe?" Dr. Morice said. "Honestly, we've had to respond in a time of emergency so we haven't had the time to think about a lot of these things." =

Though he's optimistic that answers to those questions are now coming into focus, Dr. Morice says he wants to emphasize that this new national plan, is not a national cure.

"The one thing that I think all of the medical community agrees on is that this is not going to be a light switch or a magic wand type of a moment where we get out of COVID-19," Dr. Morice said. "No country has a perfect solution, so there won't be a perfect one here either, so just really being open about how the decisions are being made and what we know and don't know is going to be really important."