Minnesota health officials say they can test up to 800 people for COVID-19

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A woman speaks into a microphone while surrounded by people.
Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm talks to reporters after a meeting with Gov. Tim Walz and legislative leaders on coronavirus preparations on March 2, 2020.
Tim Pugmire | MPR News

Updated: 4 p.m.

Minnesota government officials on Monday stressed that the state will be prepared for COVID-19, once cases of the new coronavirus start showing up here.

Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm briefed Gov. Tim Walz and top legislative leaders on those preparations. So far, Minnesota has not had a confirmed case of the disease.

But Malcolm told reporters after the briefing that Minnesota will likely see cases in the near future.

“Our state public health laboratory worked all weekend and is ready to start testing now,” Malcolm said. “We have the capability to do testing for COVID-19 in Minnesota, which will be very helpful to our efforts to quickly detect and then quickly manage these infections, should they show up here.”

The governor added that the state will be able to test up to 100 cases a day. Up to 800 people total could be tested, and more test kits can be ordered, if needed, health officials said.

Walz said he would participate later in the day with other governors in a White House conference call on COVID-19. He said he also had a meeting scheduled with the Minnesota Hospital Association to discuss capacity.

“Preparation is not panic. Preparation is the right thing to do,” Walz said.

The Minnesota Senate has a hearing scheduled this week on a coronavirus-related bill. The measure would allocate $5 million to a public health emergency account.

“We are calm, we’re focused, we have a plan,” said Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa.

A House committee will also consider a similar bill. But Rep. Tina Liebling, DFL-Rochester, the chair of the House health and human services finance committee, said her version does not yet specify a dollar amount.

“I think one of our goals would be to not have to come back into special session should we have more needs,” Liebling said. “One of the things we want to do is plan for a longer period of time.”

Correction (March 2, 2020): An earlier version of this story, relying on information from the governor’s office, incorrectly reported the number of people who could be tested for COVID-19 in Minnesota. The story has been updated.

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