Responding to the Coronavirus in Minnesota

The Center for Disease warns of a potential pandemic as cases of the Coronavirus or COVID-19 in the US and around the world continue to rise rapidly. The virus originated from Wuhan, China and spread internationally causing outbreaks in Japan, South Korea, Iran, and Italy. The disease is believed to spread through close person-to-person contact with those infected and respiratory droplets produced when someone coughs or sneezes. The systems of COVID-19 resemble the flu and can range in severity from mild to severe, including a risk of fatality. Cases of the virus have been reported in more than 10 different US states, including Wisconsin and Illinois. The CDC states that the potential public health threat of COVID-19 to the United States and the world is very high.

Governor Waltz and Minnesota legislators are actively monitoring the spread of the virus and working to ensure enough funding is available for when COVID-19 reaches Minnesota. The Minnesota Department of Health is working closely with the Center for Disease Control in tracking the situation and working with health care providers for recommendations and testing. Minnesota now is capable of testing for the virus locally with new kits able to detect up to 800 cases of COVID-19.

The Senate and House are working together to appropriate additional funds to prepare in case the virus spreads. Governor Waltz expects the federal government’s assistance in preventative measures and emergency funding for impacted states. State legislators and the Department of Health are in close contact with schools, healthcare, and retirement facilities to ensure safety measures are in place.

The Senate Finance Committee met this week to hear legislation to appropriate $5 million to the Public Health Contingency Account for COVID-19 preparations. The contingency fund currently only has a $4.6 million balance.  The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) expressed concerns if this virus becomes widespread, there could be a system overload. Hospitals say funding is needed to: increase available beds, provide isolation rooms, and increase ventilator capacity if necessary. They also need to provide resources for care workers to ensure they are safe when working with patients. Hospitals may need to increase staffing, cover extended hours, and account for staff absences while ensuring safe patient triage using phone banks and medicine to keep patients home, not in doctor’s offices. Finally, they need funding for training for health care staff specific to COVID-19.

The bill was laid over for further consideration and possible amendments. After the hearing, MDH sent out an updated budget estimate for the COVID19/public health contingency account. Their updated ask is $20.9 million to pay for staffing, lab costs, local public health, health care coalitions, and personal protective equipment.

There are simple measures that everyone can take to help protect themselves and others around them. Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm reminds Minnesotans that the best way to prevent the spread is by washing your hands thoroughly, avoiding touching your face, and covering your cough. Additional preventative measures as well as more information about the virus can be found here on the Minnesota Department of Health’s website. COVID-19 is likely to spread to Minnesota; let’s keep our communities safe by doing what we can to stay healthy and up to date about the virus. Click Here to learn more about the virus and get updated on the current situation. (S.F. 3813)