Governor signs coronavirus response bill

This week, Governor Walz signed into law a bill appropriating nearly $21 million in funds to be added to Minnesota’s public health response contingency account. The funds will help support disease investigation, provide information to the public, coordinate statewide response activities, and conduct laboratory analysis. The legislation was passed urgently and with unanimous bipartisan support.

In addition to signing the funding bill into law this week, the governor has also activated the joint emergency operations center to work on the issue as it develops. Executive branch agencies are also prepared to move forward with further contingency plans, including hiring additional health care professionals and determining what that process would look like. The message surrounding coronavirus this week continues to be planning, not panicking. The state has expected cases of the illness to increase and that is why this legislation passed swiftly and with bipartisan support. Minnesota is committed to being as prepared as possible for dealing with this disease in a proactive and responsible manner.

In the best interest of senators, staff, and the public, beginning Monday, March 16, there will be limited access to senate office suites and staff areas to the public by appointment only. Appointments will be limited to no more than two guests in a senate office at a time. Larger groups may still be accommodated in certain public conference rooms or in general areas of the building.

Conversations are on-going about managing committee agendas and meeting. These decisions are being made based on information and advice that was received from the Minnesota Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control.

DFL leaders in the House announced a second package of COVID-19 preparedness legislation this week to address a range of interconnected concerns. Their bills give the governor emergency powers to address the problem, sets up a revolving loan account to provide no or low-interest loans to providers clinics, facilities, and health systems. Other bills in the House DFL package include unemployment insurance and sick leave benefits expansion, compensation for hourly school workers for days canceled due to COVID-19, legislation to make sure health plans cover testing, treatment, and quarantine without cost-sharing, and a ban on price gouging goods and services in time of an emergency. We hope Senate Republicans take note of the House DFL’s forward thinking and take additional action soon.

State health officials are readying for a new phase of the COVID-19 outbreak in Minnesota, where five people have tested positive for the illness. The case serves as a reminder of the core preventative measures being recommended by the Minnesota Department of Health right now: stay home if you have a cold or flu-like symptoms, cover your coughs and sneezes with a tissue or your sleeve, wash your hands, and avoid touching your face.  With these preventative measures practiced individually and a fully funded public health response contingency account at the state level, Minnesota is prepared to handle the coronavirus effectively and efficiently. (SF 3813)