An investigation of Minnesota’s second COVID-19 case found that an infected Carver County resident had been in contact with as many as 20 people who are now at risk for infection with the novel coronavirus.
The level of contact varied, meaning that some people will now be quarantined at home to see if they too develop symptoms, while others have no restrictions but will be required to notify health authorities if they get sick. “It depends on the risk level of the contacts, which has to do with how long and how close” they were to the infected patient, said Kathy Como-Sabetti, an epidemiology supervisor for the Minnesota Department of Health.
News of that contact investigation came Monday as Minnesota lawmakers were working on a $25 million public health response plan, and one Twin Cities clinic provider announced drive-through swabbing to collect samples for testing from sick patients who might be infected with the coronavirus.
M Health Fairview wants patients to call ahead and be screened over the phone for COVID-19 testing, and to then drive when possible to one of four clinics. Masked health care workers will meet them outside, collect nasal or throat swabs from them while they are in their cars, and send them home to remain in isolation and await results. Those samples will then be sent to the state public health lab for testing, with results often coming back within a day.
“You can literally drive up, get swabbed, and drive right home,” said Laura Reed, Fairview’s chief operating officer.
The approach limits contact between the potentially infected patients and the clinic’s workers and other patients, and is an example of the social distancing measures that health officials said are needed in Minnesota at this stage of the COVID-19 outbreak.
All people should stay home when suffering fever or respiratory symptoms, regardless of whether their illnesses are linked to the coronavirus that emerged in China in December and spread worldwide this winter, said Como-Sabetti, who made her ill husband stay at home from his work as a teacher on Monday.
“We definitely have a culture where people try to tough it out through the day,” she said. “Now is not the time to do it.”
Hope for containment
State officials said they still have hope of containing or slowing the introduction of COVID-19 in Minnesota, even though two people in the state have tested positive for the coronavirus. Both are recovering and are at home in isolation until they are no longer infection risks.
The first case involved a person 65 or older from Ramsey County who was likely infected last month during a cruise on the Grand Princess. State health officials found the patient had no close contact with others who would now be at risk, though.
The second case involved a person around 50 years of age who was likely infected during travel to Europe.
The individual first noticed symptoms March 2 and sought health care March 7. Interviews by state epidemiologists determined the patient had been in contact with as many as 20 other people in that window between symptom onset and seeking care.
Officials are concerned if people had been within 6 feet of infected patients for at least 10 minutes, because patients can spread the infection by coughing or sneezing droplets on others who are nearby.
A parent of children at Eagle Creek Elementary School in Shakopee is one of the people who had been in contact with the Carver patient and is now in self-quarantine for 14 days. Shakopee Public Schools announced in a news release that the parent’s children also will be required to stay home if the parent develops fever.
Wisconsin announced its second case of coronavirus in Pierce County, along the Minnesota border near Hastings, Minn.
About 50 miles north, classes in Osceola, Wis., also near the border, were canceled Tuesday for one day of cleaning after a person with a confirmed case attended a Destination Imagination event at the high school over the weekend.
Technically, both Minnesota cases are presumptive until the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirm the state’s test results, but health officials said they are taking action to protect others ahead of those final results.
Minnesota’s preparations for COVID-19 received a boost Monday when both the state Senate and House passed $21 million funding bills that will support the Health Department’s continued testing of suspected cases and contact investigations to prevent people carrying the virus from infecting others.
Another $4 million in existing state funds will support that work as well.
Lawmakers in the House and Senate on Monday approved the legislation, which directs about $21 million to an emergency response fund that already has more than $4 million in reserves. Gov. Tim Walz will sign the final version at 11:45 a.m. Tuesday.
Walz said Monday that there could be additional spending requests, including to support hospitals and long-term care facilities in their management of infected patients.
Prepare for quarantines
Health officials have asked individuals to prevent the spread of germs by covering coughs, washing hands, not touching their faces, and staying home from school or work when sick. They’ve also asked individuals to prepare for possible voluntary quarantines by stocking up on enough food, medicine and basic provisions to remain at home for 14 days — the amount of time in which symptoms would show up after infection. That has led to some hoarding by shoppers, and shortages at stores.
A CDC leader said Monday that people need to stock up, but to be mindful that people who are older or have health problems are most at risk and to make sure they have access to what they need as well.
“This is a time for people to prepare for what they might need to do,” said Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, “but not a time for people to clear out the shelves.”
As of Monday morning, Minnesota’s public health lab had conducted 82 tests of samples from patients at risk for coronavirus infection based on symptoms and travel histories. The state is expanding its capacity and expects private labs will soon be able to conduct tests as well.
Fairview will be conducting drive-through swabs to collect samples for testing from patients who call ahead at its Bloomington Oxboro, Brooklyn Park, Woodwinds and Maplewood Urgent Care clinics. Sample collection will happen at other clinics if patients show up, though.
Staff writer Torey Van Oot contributed to this report.