Minnesota bracing

House Speaker Melissa Hortman discusses the state’s preparations for the potential spread of the COVID-19 virus to Minnesota. Gov. Tim Walz, state health officials and other legislative leaders spoke at the March 2 news conference.

Minnesota does not have any confirmed cases of COVID-19, but public health officials are building on their preparedness efforts to keep Minnesotans safe.

“Based upon what we’re seeing, we do believe it’s likely that we will see cases, and potentially in the very near future,” Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said during a press briefing on Monday.

“Preparation is not panic,” Gov. Tim Walz said. “Preparation is the right thing to do … This will get to Minnesota at some point and preparation is the way that we are able to contain it.”

He and other legislators, including House Speaker Melissa Hortman (DFL-Brooklyn Park), commented on the strength of Minnesota’s public health system, its ability to address the situation, and the government’s dedication to providing a cohesive, cooperative response.

“This is not a partisan issue,” said House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt (R-Crown). “This is one of the things that Minnesota does really well.”

As of Monday morning, the state’s Public Health Laboratory is qualified and ready to test for the disease, which will help quickly detect and manage infections, Malcolm said.

The Department of Health is following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines regarding who to test, which are expanding to focus on specific clinical symptoms, even if patients do not have a travel history or a close link to confirmed cases, she said.

So far, there have been five negative tests in Minnesota. These are tracked online.

The state is working to coordinate with school districts and the health care system, as well as the private sector, spreading information and working through possible mitigation strategies, officials said.

Funding for addressing public health crises was authorized by the Legislature in 2017, in anticipation of circumstances like this one.

Introduced Monday, HF3980, sponsored by Rep. Tina Liebling (DFL-Rochester), would authorize additional funds. It is scheduled to be heard Wednesday by the House Health and Human Services Finance Division.

Although a specific appropriation amount is not included, this wouldn’t be a “blank check,” rather the House is awaiting more precise financial estimates from the Department of Health. If federal funding comes through, then it would be used to offset the difference in the General Fund, Walz and Liebling said.

Personal response

For the general public, the risk remains low, and people do not need to change their regular, domestic travel plans at this point, Malcolm said.

“The majority of the cases are mild,” she said. “But we all owe it to the vulnerable to prevent the spread of this disease.”

People can protect themselves and their families, as well as their communities, in the following ways:

• cover coughs with your sleeve if you don’t have a handkerchief;

• wash hands more frequently, and more thoroughly than you might otherwise;

• avoid touching your face;

• clean surfaces thoroughly;

• think ahead about how to manage illness in your family; and

• most importantly, stay home if you are sick.

“It’s critical,” Malcom said.

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