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Minnesota ready to begin testing for coronavirus

The state public health lab is now equipped to test up to 100 people per day.

ST PAUL, Minn. — State health officials announced Monday that they are now able to start testing for coronavirus right here in Minnesota, instead of sending samples to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

Governor Tim Walz held a news conference with lawmakers and Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm to update the public on the state's preparations for the virus.

"We do believe it’s likely that we will see cases, and potentially in the fairly near future," Commissioner Malcolm said.

In light of this, Malcolm said the state public health laboratory worked all weekend to finish preparation to test for the virus. They are now equipped to test up to 100 people per day for COVID-19, or coronavirus.

Malcolm said this ability will help them more quickly detect and treat cases.

"Preparation is not panic, preparation is the right thing to do," Governor Walz said. "And I think we would be remiss if we didn’t understand that … this will get to Minnesota at some point and preparation is the way that we can contain it."

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Commissioner Malcolm said that once Washington state began testing, they identified cases that they believe were already present in the community. She said that could also be the case here. Once they begin testing, they may find a background level of coronavirus already circulating in Minnesota.

"There’s actually a bit of a silver lining in that," Malcolm said. "If that’s the case, that it’s already circulating and has been undetected for a few weeks, what that suggests is that - and we know this to be true - the majority of the case are mild. But we all owe it to the vulnerable folks in our state and our communities to do what we can do prevent the spread of this disease."

Because flu season is in high gear, Minnesota's hospital beds are already at high capacity. Walz said health officials will need to take that into consideration if they see coronavirus cases begin to come in.

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Lawmakers in Minnesota are holding hearings in both the House and the Senate on Wednesday to prepare state funds to help with the response. Walz said he's hopeful that Minnesota will receive federal funds to reimburse the state, and they have a call with the White House on this topic scheduled for Monday.

Officials continue to encourage the public to prepare by taking personal health precautions similar to those with the flu:

  • Cover your cough
  • Wash your hands more frequently and thoroughly
  • Stay home if you are sick
  • Prepare a care plan for any vulnerable family members
  • Begin to prepare for the possibility of day cares closing
  • Stock up on basic supplies

Malcolm said health officials are hearing about stores running out of cleaning supplies and soap. She said they'll work with retailers on the supply side.

In terms of concerns about spring break travel, Malcolm said they are keeping in touch with the CDC on recommendations.

"For the general public the risk remains low today," she said. "But for at-risk populations under certain circumstances the risk is quite a bit higher. We’re not seeing today the need for people to cancel regular travel plans domestically. That could change."

Minnesota Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka asserted that Minnesota is ready for coronavirus and "not wringing our hands."

"We are calm, we’re focused," he said. "You can be hopeful that we have a plan and we’ll implement it."

KARE 11’s coverage of the coronavirus is rooted in Facts, not Fear. Visit kare11.com/coronavirus for comprehensive coverage, find out what you need to know about Minnesota specifically, learn more about the symptoms, and keep tabs on the cases around the world here. Have a question? Text it to us at 763-797-7215.