Health Department brings some laid-off workers back to job

The Minnesota Department of Health has called back to work a small number of employees in one of its disease units. The workers had been furloughed during the state government shutdown.

They will now help process a backlog of more than 500 reports of "vector-borne diseases" that have come in since the shutdown began. Mosquitoes and ticks account for most of the vector-borne diseases in Minnesota.

Health Department spokesman John Stieger says agency managers thought they could do without the employees if the shutdown had ended quickly.

"Since now we're on to 11 days, it was important, we felt to bring staff back to follow up with health care providers who are contacting us about suspected cases of vector-borne diseases," said Steiger.

This is the peak period for Lyme disease reports in Minnesota, and the state is just entering its peak season for West Nile virus.

The Health Department didn't need a special ruling to bring back the employees, since the agency already had permission to retain workers who investigate disease outbreaks.

Stieger wouldn't say how many employees returned to work. When the vector-borne disease unit is fully staffed it has four epidemiologists and five student workers.

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