FILE - Minnesota State Capitol

The Minnesota State Capitol in Saint Paul, Minnesota. (Gabriel Vanslette | Wikimedia via Creative Commons)

(The Center Square) — The Minnesota Senate on Monday unanimously passed a bill that seeks to transfer nearly $21 million to the Public Health Response Contingency Account to fight COVID-19.

There have been two confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Minnesota.

Sen. Jerry Relph, R-St. Cloud, sponsored Senate File 3813.

“This is a bipartisan effort to make sure that medical professionals and public health workers have the equipment they need to implement preventive measures and that Minnesotans have access to timely testing and treatment,” Relph said in a news release. “I think we can all agree that the health and safety of Minnesotans comes first.”

If the $20.9 million isn’t used or is reimbursed by the federal government, it will be transferred back to the general fund, Relph said.

He added that the funding amount is based on a budget from the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) Commissioner Jan Malcolm.

Andrea Ahneman, MDH Communications and social media planner, told The Center Square in an email that money would be used to fund MDH staff time, their public health laboratory testing, staffing needs, and personal protective equipment for staff and first responders.

There's $4.62 million currently in the contingency fund, available for COVID-19 or other health concerns deemed as emergencies.

The Minnesota Department of Health (DOH) reported two patients testing positive for COVID-19 out of the 82 people tested.

Malcolm encouraged Minnesotans to enact preventative policies to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

“While our public health workers are busy tracking down potentially exposed people and evaluating potential cases, the rest of us must do our part,” Malcolm said in a news release. “First and foremost that means staying home when you are sick. It also means covering coughs and sneezes, washing hands frequently, and avoiding touching your face throughout the day.”

The MDH counted about 500 COVID-19 cases in the U.S. that have resulted in at least 21 deaths.

For context, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated as many as 52,000 deaths nationwide from the flu from Oct. 1, 2019, to Feb. 29, 2020.

Senate Majority Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, encouraged Minnesotans to follow basic health precautions to navigate COVID-19.

“I don’t want us to lose perspective. This is serious, but we shouldn’t do what we do out of fear... It should simply be out of caution, and being careful, and being wise,” he said.

“We have a plan, and we’re working together, Democrats and Republicans, the House and the Senate and the Governor, and we will get through this because we have a plan,” Gazelka said.

The bill moved to the House of Representatives.

Staff Reporter

Scott McClallen is a staff writer covering Michigan and Minnesota for The Center Square. A graduate of Hillsdale College, his work has appeared on Forbes.com and FEE.org. Previously, he worked as a financial analyst at Pepsi.