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Health Dept. confirms first 'presumptive' coronavirus case in Minnesota

Health officials say the person is an older adult from Ramsey County who was recently on a Grand Princess cruise ship with a known case.

ST PAUL, Minn. — The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) has confirmed the first "presumptive" case of COVID-19 coronavirus in the state.

The MDH says it is the first presumptive case, meaning their test came back positive for the infection, but tests will need to be sent to the Centers for Disease Control for confirmation. Health officials say the person is an older adult from Ramsey County who was recently on a Grand Princess cruise ship with a known case. They disembarked at an earlier port before the ship was placed in quarantine. They began experiencing symptoms on Feb. 25 and sought medical care on Thursday, March 5.

Officials say the patient is currently in isolation at home and is recovering. MDH says they have followed up and found "no community exposures of concern," which they called "wonderful news."

M Health Fairview confirmed that the patient was treated at one of their facilities. They said they were notified in advance, and the person arrived in a mask. A spokesperson says staff "followed our standard processes and protocols effectively" and the patient was escorted to a room, tested and sent home for quarantine. M Health Fairview says privacy laws prevent them from sharing any more information.

"As we watched this outbreak spread in other states and countries we knew it was likely that we would see it here in Minnesota at some point," Minnesota Governor Tim Walz said at a news conference on Friday. "State and local governments have been working hard for about the last month to prepare, as many in the private sector have. I'm confident Minnesota is prepared for this."

Walz said his administration has been in close contact with federal and local partners.

"It's natural to feel concern during a time like this, and the best way to address our concerns is to be as well-informed as we possibly can be," Walz said.

The governor emphasized that the majority of people who contract coronavirus will have "mild symptoms," while some people will require more extensive treatment.

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Information posted to the MDH website shows there have been 49 “persons under investigation” who have “met the established criteria for laboratory testing." Of those cases, 48 of the 49 have tested negative.

The Health Department’s website emphasizes that the “(persons under investigation) numbers cannot be used to determine the relative risk people in a given community or state may face from COVID-19.”

Minnesota Commissioner of Health Jan Malcolm said the virus reaching Minnesota has been expected, but expressed the importance of helping stunt the spread of the virus.

"This is cause for concern but not panic," Malcolm said. "It's really important to emphasize that this is a travel-related case of exposure. This is not a case of community exposure of unknown origin."

Malcolm said healthy Minnesotans remain at low risk.

"But it's important that we all do our part to protect those in our community who are higher risk by virtue of age and underlying health conditions," she said.

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The MDH says if the coronavirus starts to spread, state and local health officials would consider community interventions such as temporary closures of child care facilities and schools, workplace social distancing measures — in-person meetings with teleworking — and modifying, postponing or canceling mass gatherings. These decisions would be made by state and local officials.

"Obviously these measures may create inconveniences of their own, so it's a good time for all of us to be thinking now about how we can best prepare ourselves, our families and our workplaces to be resilient," Malcolm said.

In a news release Friday, Malcolm said that although officials are working hard to slow the virus, "we need to be prepared for some level of community spread." 

The MDH says it is "critical" that everyone continues to do their part by covering coughs, washing hands and staying home when sick.

"It's quite logical that everyone would wonder, 'Are we now gonna suddenly go from one to hundreds or thousands?'" Malcolm said. "That is certainly our hope to prevent that, and is not necessarily the trajectory that we would see. I'd remind us all that our colleagues in Wisconsin were among the first to report a case. They had one case several weeks ago. They still have one case."

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The MDH has set up a hotline for the public to call and ask their general coronavirus questions. The hotline is open until 8 p.m. on March 6. It will then be open 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. The hotline number is 651-201-3920.

Kris Ehresmann, director of infectious disease for the MDH, said that the goal is to have coronavirus testing available widely in Minnesota. She said by early next week, they anticipate there will be additional labs that can help.

But for now, there is only one MDH lab equipped to test. That's why they're asking providers to consider the following criteria when they pass along cases:

  • Clinical symptoms
  • Travel history
  • Exposure to a known case
  • Individuals with a very severe illness with an unknown cause
  • Health care providers with symptoms

"Once testing becomes more widely available, then providers can test anyone that they're concerned about," Ehresmann said.

As of March 6, the Centers for Disease Control reported 233 confirmed coronavirus cases in the United States, as well as 49 cases among persons repatriated to the United States, mostly from the Diamond Princess cruise ship. Fourteen deaths have been reported in the U.S.

The CDC recently urged U.S. businesses, hospitals and communities to prepare for a possible spread of coronavirus.

"You’ll want to make sure you have enough food for a week, you want to make sure if you’re ill and you have medications, that you take, that you have enough medications for at least a week if not thirty days," said Dr. Jeff Vespa of North Memorial Health.

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Minnesota House Speaker Melissa Hortman and Majority Leader Ryan Winkler released a joint statement Friday saying:

“The Minnesota House of Representatives is continuing to work with Governor Walz, the Minnesota Senate, and local officials to ensure our state is prepared to respond to COVID-19. We encourage Minnesotans to follow the health guidelines put forward by the Minnesota Department of Health and the CDC.”

Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar issued the following statement as well:

“I have talked to Governor Walz regarding the isolated travel-related case of coronavirus in Minnesota. The state has been preparing for potential cases of coronavirus, and yesterday in the Senate I voted for emergency funding legislation that will deliver at least $10 million in federal resources to Minnesota to combat this virus. Every Minnesotan should follow the advice of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Minnesota Department of Health to prevent the spread of this disease.”

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.

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