Politics and Government

MN senator puts halt to constituent visits amid coronavirus worry

Walz signs legislation to pay for Minnesota's initial coronavirus response
"The money is moved and now we can get to work," Gov. Tim Walz said as he signed emergency legislation to pay for Minnesota's initial coronavirus response, surrounded by top lawmakers in both parties on Tuesday, March 10, 2020.
Brian Bakst | MPR News

A Minnesota lawmaker who is also a doctor announced Tuesday that he won’t hold in-person constituent meetings until further notice.

Sen. Matt Klein, DFL-Mendota Heights, said he has decided to limit contacts to phone calls. He cited elevated concern over COVID-19 and said he's especially concerned about the elderly and others most at risk who might visit the Capitol.

“We now have three cases. We don’t know how many more we will have,” Klein said in a telephone interview. “I’m trying not to sow unnecessary fear, but I think this is the right and prudent step.”

He noted that other countries have held down COVID-19 transmission by limiting large gatherings and reducing unnecessary personal contact.

“It’s absolutely not me looking out for me. This is really me looking out for my constituents and the people who come down here,” Klein said. “I certainly would not want to be the one at fault for transmitting illness to them.”

Klein, a doctor of internal medicine at a Minneapolis hospital, said he’ll leave it up to other lawmakers to decide how to proceed.

Gov. Tim Walz said Tuesday that he’ll follow the advice of his health department before seeking any event restrictions at the State Capitol or other government locations, including the potential for health-related disruption to the Legislature.

“We have got to have continuity of services. We have got to protect the democracy to make sure we keep going,” Walz said.

He added that he’s been in discussion with legislative leaders and agency heads about scenarios that involve mass outages of state employees, including whether the state is prepared for secure telecommuting.

“Minnesotans need to know all of those details are being worked out so that the smallest disruptions to their lives is what we’re hoping for, making sure we continue on,” he said. “Business as usual, but also recognizing we’re in a unique space.”

Asked by reporters if Minnesota should temporarily clamp down on big public events — concerts, conferences or festivals — state Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said it’s not to that point.

“Certainly limiting mass gatherings is important once you have confirmed community spread of a certain size. We are not there yet in Minnesota. So we have not yet been advocating cancellation of large gatherings,” she said. “We are working with folks, having folks know that is a possibility in the future.”