Walz signs $21M funding bill to fight coronavirus

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Gov. Tim Walz signed a roughly $21 million funding bill to help cope with or prevent a major outbreak of COVID-19.

"Doing everything we can to follow the protocols to contain the spread of COVOID-19 with the assumption that there will be more than likely more cases to come up very quickly," the governor said at a news conference at the State Capitol. "This has been the pattern elsewhere."

The Minnesota Department of Health will be given a great deal of flexibility in how it spends the money. She says it will mostly be used for lab testing, disease research, patient "contact tracking" and funding for local public health departments.

"We do have have tools and this bill gives us some of the tools to help to manage the evolution of this epidemic in Minnesota," Malcolm said at a news conference with the governor and legislative leaders.

Malcolm says as of Tuesday the state had 1,500 test kits available and had done just over 100 tests with three positives for COVID-19. More test kits are arriving in larger numbers every day and testing will soon expand to the Mayo Clinic and other private labs that will be coordinated with the state health department.

One major step the health commissioner is not taking yet is the cancellation of mass public events like hockey games, high school basketball tournaments or the NCAA Wrestling Championships at US Bank Stadium.

"Certainly limiting mass gatherings is important once you have confirmed community spread of a certain size," Malcolm said. "We are not there in Minnesota. So we have not yet advocated cancellation of large gatherings."

The coronavirus funding bill passed the House and Senate unanimously and was signed into law by the governor very quickly.

"That should give Minnesotans confidence their government is ready to work together to bond together to do the things that need to be done to protect the public health" DFL House Speaker Melissa Hortman said.

Those comments were echoed by Republican Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka who also added that Minnesotans should not live in fear.

"We shouldn’t fear this," he said. "We should look at the science behind the decisions we make and move forward and like the leaders of old I want to just remind the public…stay calm and carry on."

According to the Minnesota House of Representatives, the funding bill was drafted to ensure public health officials have the resources they need to prepare for the virus.

"Public health officials in Minnesota are working around the clock to prepare for and stop the spread of COVID-19," Rep. Morrison (DFL-Deephaven), a practicing physician, said in a statement.

The money will be used for lab analysis, monitoring potential outbreaks and coordinating a statewide response.

The House and Senate passed the measure Monday without a single "no" vote.

$21 million in coronavirus money sails through Minnesota Legislature

"The emergency funding we approved yesterday is the result of a bipartisan, bicameral effort to prepare for potential challenges in the days ahead," Rep. Morrison said.

Minnesota confirmed its first case of coronavirus on March 6. A second case was confirmed on March 8 and a third case today.

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