Lawmakers taking coronavirus seriously, working in bipartisan fashion to respond

Published 7:01 am Saturday, March 14, 2020

Many people are asking me what Minnesota is doing to prepare for and prevent the spread of COVID-19, commonly known as the coronavirus. The Legislature and Gov. Walz are taking the spread of this disease very seriously and are in daily communication with public health officials, hospitals, clinics, and providers.

Minnesota has one of the best public health systems in the nation, and I am pleased that legislators from both parties are setting politics aside to protect the health of Minnesotans. On March 9, the Minnesota House of Representatives and Senate unanimously approved a bill to ensure that public health officials are prepared to respond. Gov.Walz signed the $21 million appropriation for the public health response contingency account on March 10, and these resources are already being used to identify, treat, and prevent the spread of this disease.

The Minnesota Department of Health has set up a public hotline for anyone with questions about the coronavirus. The hotline number is 651-201-3920 and it’s open daily from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. You can also visit www.health.state.mn.us for up-to-date and accurate information about what Minnesota is doing to prepare for and stop the spread of COVID-19.

The Minnesota House is exploring additional preparedness measures. We are currently in the “containment” phase of this pandemic and the initial guidance is to practice social distancing and reduce exposure. Due to the speed with which the disease spreads, many of the protocols surrounding public access to legislators and committee hearings are being considered. If you intend to travel to the State Capitol in the coming days and weeks, please visit the House website at www.house.mn for the most up-to-date information about public access.

If there is a more widespread transfer of the disease throughout the state, additional measures will be considered. One proposal would allow the governor to declare a peacetime public health emergency in the same way an emergency can currently be declared during a natural disaster, terrorist attack, industrial or hazardous materials incident, technological failure or civil disturbance that “endangers life and property and local government resources are inadequate to handle the situation.”

The proposal also establishes a health care response loan program to make no- or low-interest loans to health care providers, clinics, facilities and systems for costs to plan or respond to a communicable disease outbreak. The money could be used for things such as staffing, training, supplies, equipment, screening procedures and isolating patients.

I will continue to work in partnership with my colleagues in the Legislature, Governor Walz, and our public health officials to address this challenge, and will provide updates as new information becomes available.

You should also be on the lookout for a mailing from the United States Census Bureau, the nonpartisan government agency responsible for conducting the 2020 census. Each home will receive an invitation to respond to a short questionnaire—online, by phone, or by mail. You can find more information and get help at www.2020census.gov.

The census provides critical data that lawmakers, business owners, teachers, and many others use to provide daily services, products, and support for our community. This ensures that we get our fair share of federal funding for hospitals, fire departments, schools, roads, and other public infrastructure.

The results of the census also determine the number of seats each state will have in the U.S. House of Representatives, and they are used to draw congressional and state legislative districts. It’s also in the Constitution: Article 1, Section 2, mandates that the country conduct a count of its population once every 10 years. The 2020 Census will mark the 24th time that the country has counted its population since 1790.

Lastly, I want to put a spotlight on the terrific work our local television station KSMQ is doing to raise awareness about the census in a way that is inclusive and welcoming to Minnesotans of all backgrounds. Thanks to KSMQ’s “Every 1 Counts” initiative, there are informational videos about the census available in 16 different languages.

Beginning in February, KSMQ worked with the Minnesota Department of Education to share the videos with every school district in our state. Watch the videos by visiting www.ksmq.org and clicking on the “Every 1 Counts” graphic on the homepage.