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Minnesota hospitals and agencies ramp up preparations for coronavirus

Plus: fire guts downtown Alexandria; Omar’s memoir set to be published in May; Walz proposes spending on farm safety; and more.

Jeremy Olson of the Star Tribune reports, “Minnesota hospitals and public health agencies are ramping up preparations for the novel coronavirus that has almost reached global pandemic levels since emerging in China this winter and spreading to at least 37 countries. While the U.S. government continues efforts such as travel restrictions and quarantines to limit the introduction of the virus into the country, state and federal officials said Tuesday that the disease’s entry into the country is inevitable and that the virus will eventually spread from person to person.”

WCCO-TV’s Bill Hudson reports: Fire broke out before daybreak and quickly spread between several historic buildings in the oldest part of downtown. ‘It’s heartbreaking,’ says longtime resident, Amanda Seim. She’s speaking for many residents who witnessed the early morning fire as it chewed through Alexandria’s historic downtown. … More than 100 firefighters from five different departments fought the flames. In the end they might have lost the battle but they won the most important war. All residents living in the 13 upstairs apartments got out safely.”

At MPR, Martin Moylan writes, “Minnesota has more new housing but most is too expensive for people with low to moderate incomes, according to a report released by Prosperity’s Front Door, a group that is tracking progress in meeting goals set by a statewide housing task force two years ago. The encouraging signs include a rise in home and apartment construction and a reduction in renter evictions. But homelessness rose last year and racial disparities in homeownership persist.”

The Star Tribune’s Torey Van Oot writes: “First-term Minnesota U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar is set to publish a memoir this May. The Minneapolis Democrat sold the book, titled “This Is What America Looks Like: My Journey from Refugee to Congresswoman,” to a Harper­Collins imprint last year, shortly after her historic election in 2018 as one of the first two Muslim women to serve in Congress. On Tuesday, the publisher announced a May 26 release date for the book, which features a Rembrandt­esque portrait of Omar wearing a white hijab against a black background and gold text..”

Says an AP story, “Gov. Tim Walz on Tuesday proposed reimbursing farmers who retrofit their tractors with rollover protection or install safety equipment in their grain bins in an effort to reduce farm accidents. The governor was joined at a news conference by Michele Gran, whose 18-year-old son, Landon, was killed in a grain bin accident on their farm near St. Peter last August. She has since channeled her grief into a campaign for farm safety, including a pair of bills dubbed Landon’s Law that are making their way through the Legislature.”

Says John Ewoldt in the Star Tribune, “After closing three of its five remaining Twin Cities stores in August, ApplianceSmart has closed one more and will close its last Minnesota location next month.The firm’s Maplewood store closed last week, and the final store in Champlin store is expected to close in late March, an employee said. It may close earlier if inventories run low. After the last Minnesota store closes, only one location in Columbus, Ohio, is left.”

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For The Hill, Zack Budryk says, “Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) was the last candidate to speak at Tuesday’s presidential primary debate, the final one before the South Carolina and Super Tuesday primaries, 17 minutes in and in some cases after other candidates had spoken several times. Klobuchar, asked whether former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s enforcement of stop-and-frisk policies was racist, bluntly responded, ‘Yes’. … Tuesday’s primary debate quickly grew contentious and heated, with the seven candidates on stage repeatedly attacking each other on their records and policy platforms.”

Another Star Tribune story, this from Chris Serres, says, “The state agency that oversees Minnesota’s Medicaid program disclosed that it incorrectly paid up to $28.9 million over three years to managed care organizations and health care providers for tens of thousands of enrollees with duplicate personal accounts. The state Department of Human Services (DHS) said the overpayments stemmed from gaps in its electronic system for tracking eligibility and enrollment, which led to the creation of multiple personal identification numbers for more than 47,000 Minnesotans.”