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The daily coronavirus update: National, state emergencies declared; five new Minnesota cases

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. Today, a press conference was held with Gov. Tim Walz and other administration officials instead. MDH is not planning a daily update over the weekend, but if that changes, MinnPost will cover it.

Here are the latest updates from March 13, 2020:


Peacetime state of emergency

Just before President Donald Trump declared a national state of emergency over COVID-19, Gov. Tim Walz declared a peacetime state of emergency in Minnesota in response to the growing threat of the virus Friday afternoon.

“A peacetime state of emergency will allow the state of Minnesota to respond more rapidly, as issues evolve. I would ask you all to think of this as opening the toolbox,” Walz said in a press conference that was also live streamed.

Despite opening the toolbox he’s not taking out tools yet. A state of emergency allows for the activation of the National Guard, among other powers.

Along with the state of emergency declaration, the state is recommending the cancellation or postponement of gatherings of 250 or more people across the state, such as concerts, conferences and sporting events.

Gov. Tim Walz
MinnPost photo by Greta Kaul
Gov. Tim Walz declared a peacetime state of emergency in Minnesota in response to the growing threat of the virus Friday afternoon.
The state also suggests cancelling smaller events where social distancing measures that could help prevent the spread of COVID-19 — namely, maintaining a six-foot distance between attendees — cannot be observed.

Events with more than 10 people where many are at high-risk for severe COVID-19 illness, like those at retirement, assisted living, developmental and support groups for people with health conditions should also be cancelled or postponed, per the recommendations.

“Each of these recommendations is designed principally to make person-to-person transmission less likely by reducing close contact interactions,” Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said, describing close contact interactions as when people are within 6 feet of one another for 10 minutes or more.

She stressed that the state is not suggesting a ban on leaving your house, but said it’s a good idea to limit close contact when you do.

While other states have ordered the closing of large gatherings, Minnesota is currently putting the measures out as recommendations. That could change as the situation evolves.

Malcolm applauded Minnesotans for listening to public health officials’ recommendations so far. She said there’s evidence people are adopting new behaviors in response to COVID-19, and it’s showing up in flu numbers.

More information on these social distancing guidelines can be found here.

Five new cases in Minnesota

The Minnesota Department of Health confirmed five new cases of COVID-19 in the state Friday, for a total of 14.

The University of Minnesota confirmed a case among its students in an email from President Joan Gabel Friday afternoon. “While privacy laws protecting patient and student information limit what can be disclosed, I can share that the student is recovering in isolation off campus and is being monitored by health professionals. In addition, MDH is working to notify a limited number of people who may have had close contact with the patient and is advising them on next steps,” she wrote.

There are now confirmed cases in Anoka, Carver, Dakota, Hennepin, Olmsted, Ramsey, Stearns and Wright counties. Two people in Minnesota are hospitalized related to COVID-19.

The new cases are believed to be related to travel, and officials do not have evidence of community transmission in Minnesota as of yet.

Asked whether there’s undetected community spread in Minnesota, Malcolm said she couldn’t say. “I can say it’s not widespread. If it was, we would have seen it in the testing we’re doing and in the health care system. Do I think it could very well be here? Yes I do.”

No school closures recommended

Officials reiterated they are still not recommending the closure of schools as of now, since evidence from other parts of the world and the country have shown school closures don’t have significant impact on the spread of the virus. For example: Hong Kong, which did close schools, didn’t see less transmission than in Singapore, which didn’t.

Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm
MinnPost photo by Greta Kaul
Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm stressed that the state is not suggesting a ban on leaving your house, but said it’s a good idea to limit close contact when you do.

Higher testing capacity

Malcolm also reiterated that the state is hoping to increase testing capacity.

“It is the case that folks are not able to just get a test on demand, and I think that’s important given where we are with our testing capabilities,” she said. “I think the goal is to be able to make testing more widely available we just can’t do it through existing systems alone.”

Pets and COVID-19

There is no evidence your dog, cat or other pets can spread or contract COVID-19, Minnesota’s Board of Animal Health said Friday. To date, the CDC hasn’t had any reports of animals becoming sick. “COVID-19 is a global human-health concern at this time,” a news release from the Animal Health board says.

Still, officials said pet-owners should include pets in their coronavirus planning and keep a two-week supply of food and medicine available for the animals.

Reading around the web

MDH’s coronavirus website:
Hotline, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.: 651-201-3920

Walker Orenstein contributed to this report.

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