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Walz approves $21 million for coronavirus response, officials turn to next steps to contain spread

The news came before health officials on Tuesday announced a third case of COVID-19 in Minnesota.

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Gov. Tim Walz on Tuesday, March 10, 2020, signed into law an appropriation of $21 million for the Department of Health aimed at containing and treating cases of the coronavirus in Minnesota. Dana Ferguson / Forum News Service

ST. PAUL — Gov. Tim Walz on Tuesday, March 10, signed into law a proposal to send $20.9 million to the Minnesota Department of Health to help fund coronavirus containment and treatment efforts.

The move comes a day after state lawmakers fast-tracked the measure through the House of Representatives and Senate in an effort to free up the funds for the department as quickly as possible. And it came just hours before the announcement that another Minnesotan had been tested positive for the illness, bringing the total in the state to three.

Three Minnesotans, one in Ramsey County, one in Carver County and one in Anoka County, have tested positive for COVID-19, the illness stemming from the coronavirus. All three have been asked to isolate themselves to reduce the risk of spreading the virus.

There was already $4.6 million in the state's public health emergency account, but that wasn't designated specifically for combatting COVID-19. Department of Health officials said the new funding will be put toward paying staff, increasing testing for the illness and buying equipment to contain its spread.

"The speed with which the Legislature came together to work with us is unprecedented in my memory,” Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said. "We now need to deliver."

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Legislative leaders on Tuesday said the funding was a first step in preparing the state for a potential COVID-19 pandemic and they began outlining contingency plans for the Legislature in the event they need to call a hiatus due to COVID-19. House Speaker Melissa Hortman said the state was reviewing its procedures for meeting remotely and for allowing constituents into the Capitol in the event of a wider spread.

The Brooklyn Park Democrat said the state should consider state funding to cover sick time for Minnesotans who might have to self-quarantine, granting the governor additional authority to act in instances of a health emergency and set up a revolving loan fund for health groups dealing with COVID-19.

"There is more legislation to be considered related to this outbreak but hopefully you can count on this Legislature to continue to work in a bipartisan manner," Hortman said.

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, said he was open to taking up those ideas but didn't commit to supporting them on Tuesday. And he urged Minnesotans to keep calm in the face of the potential spread of COVID-19.

"We are unified in Minnesota, the governor, the House, the Senate, Republicans and Democrats, we'll do what we need to do but keep calm and carry on," Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, said.

More than 111,000 patients have been diagnosed with COVID-19 globally and 3,800 have died from the virus as of Tuesday afternoon . In the United States, 647 Americans have been diagnosed and 25 have died as a result of the virus, according to the CDC.

In Minnesota, more than 100 individuals had been tested for the illness as of Tuesday morning, state health officials said. And the department of health had 1,500 tests on hand.

Malcolm said it wasn't immediately clear what the state would receive from an $8.3 billion federal appropriation, but said early estimates put the figure at $10 million. That funding would help the state purchase equipment to manage the virus and help fund community health organizations that help respond and prevent cases at a more local level.

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State health officials recommend that Minnesotans regularly wash their hands, disinfect surfaces, cover their mouths with their elbows when coughing or sneezing and stay home when they feel ill in order to prevent the spread of the illness. They've also advised people to stock up on supplies and prepare for child care plans or other family care in the event that they or a loved one get sick.

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