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Counties, airports gearing up for coronavirus

Rep. Craig briefed on local efforts to plan for outbreaks of coronavirus in Minnesota

MINNEAPOLIS — County health departments across the state are preparing to respond to a wave of new coronavirus cases, and already fielding a lot of phone calls from the public.

Congresswoman Angie Craig Friday hosted a meeting of the health department managers from several counties in her district, which stretches from the southern Twin Cities metro into parts of southeastern Minnesota.

"Right now is the time we have to come together and we know how to do that better than anywhere in the country in Minnesota," Rep. Craig told KARE.

"I have no doubt whatever comes next, we’ll have good cooperation at the state and federal level and we’ll be able to rise to the challenge."

Congress improved $8 billion in emergency funding earlier in the week, but there's an acknowledgment more will probably be needed as the Covid-19 illness spreads and more cases are detected though expanded testing.

Craig learned that many counties have already launched local emergency operations centers, to coordinate with state and federal authorities. Local health departments are also training staff on how to answer calls from the public

"We've been flooded with calls from the public, Gina Adasiewicz of Dakota County Public Health explained.

"They’re asking about what they should be doing, if they don’t feel well, what the information they should have to give to their families, if they should be staying home from school, there’s questions about should they eat Chinese food, such a variety of questions."

Adasiewicz said nurses will be working the phones to help do initial screenings, to help sort out potential coronavirus cases from people with more common respiratory illnesses.  

"We would be responsible for calling people that have coronavirus daily, have them check their temperatures, so that creates quite a lot of work if there’s more than one," Adasiewicz told reporters.

She expects workload to increase as people with possible exposure begin to quarantine themselves.

"If we have people who are in quarantine, who are exposed but don’t have symptoms, it’s also the local public health department’s responsibility to make sure they have essential services, food and their medications."

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

Later Friday, Gov. Tim Walz announced the state had its first presumptive case of novel coronavirus, involving an older Minnesotan who was likely exposed on a cruise ship in late February.

The airports comprise another important piece of the armor here.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a quarantine station at MSP airport to check on passengers who arrive from international flights feeling ill. It's one of 20 of those quarantine stations across the nation that were already staffed full-time before the coronavirus outbreak.

But they'll play an especially critical role moving forward.

"That is to identify any communicable diseases and illnesses of public health concern and when we do respond to that our role is to help provide that assistance," Dr. Arnold Vang, who heads the CDC's quarantine station at MSP, told KARE.

"If someone needs to go to the hospital we make that happen with the connections with the state health department and local hospital."

Dr. Vang was among those who briefed Rep. Craig Friday. He said there's already a history of great cooperation between the CDC, the Minnesota Dept. of Health and local health providers.

"The health department will reach out to these patients, it could be on a daily basis, to ask about have they done any fever checks or any symptomologies that may have developed."

Rep. Craig said Minnesota, due to snow days, has a history of students being able to connect with teachers from home. So if school closures are eventually ordered it won't means students just stop learning.

"If kids at some point do need to stay home we have a pattern of dealing with that. Our teachers are experienced at distance learning. So, if it’s 40 below that’s what we do here."

Most experts say there's a good chance we've had coronavirus cases in this state for awhile but will begin detecting them more often because due to more testing.

So it may seem that the virus is spreading quickly when in fact we're just doing a better job of finding it.

RELATED: Inside the lab at the MDH where samples are tested for COVID-19