In the course of a few hours Monday, COVID-19 hit home in Minnesota.
Gov. Tim Walz, having come in contact with someone who tested positive for the coronavirus, appeared to be the first governor in the nation to self-quarantine due to exposure. About the same time, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar announced that her husband has been hospitalized after contracting the virus.
Meanwhile, Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan was mourning her big brother, who died from COVID-19.
For all three, it was a moment to remind Minnesotans to follow the emerging guidelines for navigating the pandemic.
Walz announced that he will not be leaving his home for the next two weeks after discovering that a member of his security detail tested positive for the coronavirus. He will continue to guide the state’s response to the outbreak from his St. Paul home.
Walz predicted the virus will infect 40% to 80% of Minnesotans, though the majority will recover without hospitalization. He warned that everyone in the state will be feeling the type of effects he and some fellow politicians are experiencing.
“Before we’re done with this each and every one of us will be touched by this,” Walz said during a telephone news conference Monday.
Walz said he is healthy and not showing any symptoms, but wanted to model the right protocol to stop the spread of COVID-19 by staying home with his family.
Walz continued his work by rolling out the latest in a series of executive orders to handle the outbreak. He ordered landlords to pause evictions during the pandemic, established a small business emergency loan program and called on non-hospital entities to donate personal protective equipment to health care providers.
In Klobuchar’s case, quarantine restrictions have prevented her from visiting her husband, John Bessler, in the hospital. Bessler, 52, works as a law professor in Baltimore and quarantined himself and stopped going to work after coming down with cold symptoms, Klobuchar said in a statement.
After developing a fever and coughing up blood, he sought medical care and was hospitalized in Virginia due to testing that showed “very low oxygen levels.” Bessler has developed pneumonia and is on oxygen, but does not need a ventilator at this time. He received confirmation that he has coronavirus on Monday morning, five days after taking the test.
“While I cannot see him and he is of course cut off from all visitors, our daughter, Abigail, and I are constantly calling and texting and e-mailing,” Klobuchar’s statement said. “We love him very much and pray for his recovery. He is exhausted and sick but a very strong and resilient person.”
Klobuchar struck a similar tone as Walz during a teleconference call Monday, warning, “This is going to happen to everyone.” She called for immediate action to help prepare hospitals.
Several members of the U.S. Senate are self-quarantining following interactions with U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican who tested positive for the virus over the weekend. Among them are Utah Sens. Mike Lee and Mitt Romney. Klobuchar said because she and her husband have not been in the same place for two weeks, her doctors say she is outside the 14-day window for developing systems and does not need a test at this time.
“As everyone is aware, there are test shortages for people who need them everywhere and I don’t qualify to get one under any standard,” she said.
Klobuchar said she will continue her work in Washington, where lawmakers are negotiating details of a roughly $2 trillion economic stimulus package.
Meanwhile the lieutenant governor’s brother, Ron, died after getting the coronavirus in Tennessee. He had been diagnosed with cancer several weeks ago and his immune system was compromised, she wrote in an Instagram post Sunday.
“To many, he’ll be a statistic: Tennessee’s second COVID-related death. But to me, I’ll remember a loving, older brother, uncle, father, and husband,” Flanagan said.
She described her brother as a “tough-as-nails” Marine who was a big teddy bear on in the inside. Their politics did not match at all, the Democratic lieutenant governor said, and that was a source of constant jokes. Flanagan’s brother’s death follows that of her father, about two months ago.
She urged people to stay home to protect people like her brother.
“If you feel fine, that’s great. But please consider the possibility that you’re carrying the virus and don’t know it, and then you walk past the next Ron, my big brother, in public,” Flanagan wrote. “COVID-19 now has a personal connection to me. Please do all you can to prevent one for you.”
Walz, now telecommuting like thousands of other Minnesotans, underscored that message on social media. The governor tweeted a video of himself greeting Minnesotans from his residence, which he said was set up several weeks ago with the capacity to do video teleconferencing and other work.
Walz found out early Monday morning that a member of his security team had the coronavirus, and Walz hasn’t left the governor’s residence since then. The security staff member discovered he has the virus Sunday night and the governor was in proximity to that person late last week.
Walz will be working from the residence through April 6. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advise anyone who comes in contact with someone who has the coronavirus to stay in quarantine for 14 days.
If he fell ill and was unable to guide the state, the responsibility would fall to Flanagan.
Staff writers Torey Van Oot and Stephen Montemayor contributed to this report.