ST. PAUL — Minnesota health officials on Friday, March 6, confirmed the first case of the coronavirus in the state in an older adult who'd recently returned from a cruise.
The Ramsey County resident tested positive for COVID-19, the illness that develops from the coronavirus, after traveling on a cruise ship where the virus was present. State health officials on Friday afternoon had few details about the case, which they'd learned had come back positive at 12:40 p.m. Friday.
The individual had started to develop symptoms on Feb. 25 and waited to seek care until Thursday, March 5, when they felt the illness required professional attention, health officials said. And that person has remained largely isolated since returning from the cruise and is now at home recovering with help from state and St. Paul-Ramsey County Public Health.
Few details about the investigation emerged Friday, but health officials said they were working to track down anyone who might have come into contact with the individual and asking them to self-quarantine for 14 days. Officials emphasized that the case was travel-related and reminded Minnesotans to take precautionary measures to avoid the potential spread of the illness.
"Confirming a case of COVID-19 is certainly something that we had been expecting. We understand it is cause for concern, as the governor has indicated, it just confirms that we have to double down on our preparations and move into the next phase of our responses," Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Jam Malcolm said. "This is cause for concern but not panic. It is certainly not unexpected."
The state began testing for COVID-19 earlier this week and as of early Friday reported that of the 49 tests it ran for the disease, all but one came back negative. State health officials on a daily basis updated reporters and lawmakers with the state of the COVID-19 in the country and in Minnesota, but they abruptly canceled a daily call Friday just before 1 p.m, after they learned of the positive case.
Physicians and state epidemiologists have prioritized patients with designated symptoms, a known travel history, exposure to a known case of COVID-19, significant health concerns as well as health workers who develop illnesses for the COVID-19 tests, Kris Ehresmann, Department of Health infectious disease director, said. But those parameters could increase as Minnesota gets more tests.
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"Those are the priority groups that we're looking at for testing," Ehresmann said. "Once testing becomes more widely available, physicians can test anyone."
Malcolm said potential cases of COVID-19 would be tested around the clock over the weekend as they emerged. And so far, tests had been turned around within one day. Malcolm and Ehresmann said potential mitigation efforts like closing schools or sporting events would be considered if the virus spread in the region, but for now, there didn't appear to be a reason to take those steps.
Ahead of the virus's arrival in Minnesota, lawmakers this week took up a proposal to fund prevention and response efforts.
Minnesota health officials on Thursday asked lawmakers for $25.5 million in emergency funding to pay for coronavirus staffing, testing and containment in the state. Lawmakers in both chambers were quick to take up those requests and start passing appropriation bills aimed at freeing up funds for the Department of Health.
The department requested $20.9 million in new funds from the Legislature in addition to $4.6 million to be accessed from a public health emergency fund. And Malcolm on Friday said the department may need more depending on the spread of the virus.
"I'm confident Minnesota is prepared for this," Gov. Tim Walz said.
President Donald Trump on Friday signed into law a federal coronavirus response plan which included more than $8.3 billion. And of that, at least $10 million could go to Minnesota, Sen. Amy Klobuchar said in a news release.
Health officials recommended that Minnesotans frequently and thoroughly wash their hands with soap and water, cover coughs and sneezes with a sleeve or tissue rather than a hand, stay home when they feel sick and seek additional information from the state department of health and the CDC about the virus.