Minnesota Senate Republicans want to immediately set aside state funding in the event that the new coronavirus reaches Minnesota.
Sen. Jerry Relph, R-St. Cloud, is introducing a bill this week to transfer $5 million from the state budget into the Public Health Response Emergency Account, as state officials and health agencies ramp up preparations for the virus, which has spread to at least 37 countries after first appearing in China.
There have been no confirmed cases of the virus in the state, but legislators have been in contact with health officials. This week, DFL Gov. Tim Walz said the state is preparing for “not if, but when” a case comes to Minnesota.
“Health officials from across the state and world have been warning us for some time: It’s only a matter of time before the novel coronavirus hits the United States and, eventually, Minnesota,” Relph said. “While we certainly hope the worst does not happen, we must begin preparing for the worst right now.”
The state is already taking precautions. Some travel restrictions are in place from Delta Air Lines, the main carrier out of the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport, and state health care providers are stocking up on supplies such as masks and gowns in case they treat infected patients. State schools are talking to health officials about possible closure plans.
“We’ve always been at the front end of epidemiology. We do a really good job of front-end notification, meaning our health care providers are watching for this,” Walz said.
COVID-19, the disease caused by the new virus, has no vaccine or specific medications to combat it.
The Senate bill would transfer any remaining funding back into the state budget if it’s ultimately not needed. But for now, Relph said, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
“We would be wise to heed the warnings of public health officials across the globe,” Relph said. “We’re talking about a serious virus outbreak that’s on the verge of a worldwide pandemic.”