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The daily coronavirus update: 4 new Minnesota cases; Health Department looks to community mitigation

The new cases were identified in Dakota, Hennepin, Ramsey and Stearns counties.

Photo: CDC/Alissa Eckert

For the foreseeable future, MinnPost will be providing daily updates on coronavirus in Minnesota, published following the press phone call conducted by the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) each afternoon.

Here are the latest updates from March 12, 2020:

Four new cases confirmed in Minnesota

Nine Minnesota residents have so far tested positive for COVID-19, the Minnesota Department of Health announced Thursday afternoon. That’s after new cases were identified in Dakota, Hennepin, Ramsey and  Stearns counties, Infectious Disease Director Kris Ehresmann said.

The Stearns case, a person in their 60s, came back from a Caribbean cruise March 6 and self-isolated after developing symptoms, according to MPR reporter Kirsti Marohn.

All four cases are likely connected to known cases, or domestic or foreign travel, and all are convalescing at home. “None of these cases would be considered related to community spread,” Ehresmann  said.

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Testing capacity

MDH tested 105 patients for COVID-19 Wednesday, and roughly 90 Thursday morning, per health department officials. The state has tested more than 300 people total.

While the department would like to test everyone with upper respiratory symptoms, the supply of tests isn’t currently sufficient to do so. Priority cases include those who are hospitalized, those with symptoms who are connected to travel or are considered contacts of people with confirmed COVID-19 cases.

Containment + community mitigation

Ehresmann reiterated that the department is moving its message from one of just containment — isolating people who have tested positive for COVID-19 and people who have been in contact with them — into community mitigation.

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“Up until now we’ve focused on ill people staying home. That is still our message,” Ehresmann said, though moving forward into community mitigation means making decisions that will affect the lives of not just those who are sick, but also healthy people.

“As we start talking about community mitigation, we’re talking about activities we do as a community, decisions that are made to minimize the spread of disease and to protect those around us in our community who are most vulnerable,” she said.

No school closures recommended

While MDH is recommending schools start thinking about social distancing, such as reducing the frequency of large gatherings, it’s not recommending school closures. That’s for a few reasons:

  • Only 2 percent of known COVID-19 cases have occurred in people under age 19.
  • Side effects of school closures include disruption in learning, disruption in access to nutrition and other school services for some kids who need. Many health care workers are parents and could be forced to stay home if their kids aren’t in school.

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Response at the Minnesota Capitol

  • Gov. Tim Walz is meeting with judicial and legislative branch leaders Thursday to talk about potential restrictions at the Capitol due to the coronavirus threat.
  • Walz said of the Legislature and the 2020 session: “It would be my suggestion to them to try to wrap up. I think they can get this done. I think we can get a bonding bill done, I think we could do a supplemental budget focusing on emergencies and I think we could get down to the work of implementing what’s coming.”
  • Management and Budget Commissioner Myron Frans thinks state revenue will take a hit as a result of the virus, and Walz wants to leave most of the state’s budget surplus unspent in order to mitigate concerns over that possibility.
  • “We have anticipated that cases of coronavirus will increase, we’re seeing that play out. We know there is more to come and there will be in the coming hours and days decisions that need to be made to make sure we flatten the spread of that curve,” Walz said.
  • Walz is considering postponing his State of the State speech, scheduled for March 23, or broadcasting it via Facebook.

State government reporter Peter Callaghan contributed to this report.