Walz says Minnesota ready for potential coronavirus spread: ‘Preparation is not panic’

By: and - March 2, 2020 12:20 pm

Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm briefed reporters on the state’s preparedness for the spread of the novel coronavirus. Photo by Ricardo Lopez/Minnesota Reformer

Gov. Tim Walz, the state’s top health official and legislative leaders sought to reassure the public Monday that they are working to prepare for the eventual arrival of the novel coronavirus to Minnesota. 

Walz, along with a bipartisan group of state legislative leaders, emerged from a briefing with officials from the Minnesota Department of Health, including Commissioner Jan Malcolm, updating them on the state of Minnesota’s preparedness.

Minnesota has no confirmed cases to date, Malcolm said, but that is likely to change. 

“Based upon what we’re seeing, we do believe it’s likely we will see cases, and potentially in the near future,” Malcolm said.

State labs worked throughout the weekend to be ready to conduct in-state testing of the virus rather than having to send samples out-of-state; Minnesota has 400 testing kits available, which should help quicken detection. 

Minnesota is moving quickly to prepare, as two U.S. fatalities were reported Sunday. The global spread of the virus to more than 65 countries has now claimed more than 3,000 lives; the U.S. has now reported a total of 88 cases. 

Malcolm said that while most cases will only experience mild to moderate symptoms similar to colds and flu, vulnerable populations like the elderly and those with suppressed immune systems are most at risk. 

“The majority of the cases are mild but we all owe it to the vulnerable folks in our states and in our community to do what we can do to prevent the spread of this disease,” Malcolm said. 

Walz, who said he was participating in a conference call with the White House and other U.S. governors, urged people to remain calm yet prepared ahead of the potential spread to Minnesota. 

“Preparation is not panic, and I think preparation is the right thing to do,” Walz said. “I think we would be remiss if we didn’t understand, as the commissioner said, this will get to Minnesota at some point.” 

House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, and Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, pledged quick action on legislation that would add state funding to the state’s disaster account. 

Committees in the House and Senate are preparing to hear two bills related to the state’s coronavirus response on Wednesday, pledging to move quickly as Congress also prepares funding for the response. 

“I appreciate that our president took swift action and our governor with the House and Senate,” Gazelka said. “Republicans and Democrats are also taking swift action in Minnesota” 

Despite the show of bipartisanship, the situation has potentially explosive political ramifications, in the case of a widespread outbreak tipping the U.S. into a recession. President Trump and his allies already launched accusations over the weekend that Democrats are politicizing the issue, while Democrats have already begun criticizing the White House response to the virus. 

So far, those recriminations haven’t occurred among Minnesota politicians, but the spread of the outbreak could have a widespread impact on the economy, schools and colleges as they work to contain the spread. 

Last week, for instance, the University of Minnesota announced it would suspend study abroad programs in South Korea and Italy after outbreaks were reported there. 

The university said it took into account travel advisories from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention  and U.S. Department of State to make the determinations. Study abroad programs to China had previously been suspended. 

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Ricardo Lopez
Ricardo Lopez

Ricardo Lopez was a senior political reporter for the Reformer.

Madeline Deninger
Madeline Deninger

Madeline Deninger is a junior at the University of Minnesota. She covers for politics and state government for Minnesota Reformer as a Kaufman Fellow. She currently serves as city editor of the university's campus newspaper, Minnesota Daily. She's also worked at WCCO-TV and American Public Media.