(The Center Square) – The Minnesota legislature unanimously passed legislation transferring nearly $21 million to combat the novel coronavirus, with two positive COVID-19 tests in the state in the last week.
Gov. Tim Walz signed the bill into law Tuesday, which transferred the money from the general fund to the Public Health Response Contingency Account.
“The safety and security of Minnesota citizens is a top priority,” Walz said in a press conference.
The Senate passed Senate File 3813, sending it to the House, which cleared the legislation on Monday with a technical amendment to ensure the funds would cover other possible strains of the COVID-19 virus, and allow the Department of Health to use federal funds without additional approval from the legislature.
COVID-19 is a respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus. Originating in Wuhan, China, the disease has caused 26 deaths in the U.S. COVID-19 symptoms appear within two to 14 days after exposure and include fever, cough, runny nose and difficulty breathing. There are more than 500 confirmed cases across the United States, according to the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH).
"This is a bipartisan effort, and it's the way government should work," Sen. Jerry Relph, R-St. Cloud, said Monday.
The Public Health Response Contingency Account now totals about $25 million.
That money will be spent, if needed, to pay MDH staff, fund their public health laboratory testing, and to buy personal protective equipment for personnel and first responders.
Lawmakers anticipated they might need more money, depending whether COVID-19 spreads in the state.
“This is initial money to help with our state’s response and to get some resources in place,” Rep. Tina Liebling, DFL-Rochester, said.
MDH Commissioner Jan Malcolm said the bill gave her department tools to manage COVID-19, but emphasized that individual behavior also matters.
“It’s so very important that people stay home when they’re sick,” Malcolm said. “That’s the single biggest thing that we can do to help manage and slow down the spread of this disease in Minnesota.”
Malcolm said there had been about 90 deaths in Minnesota so far from flu this season, placing COVID-19 into context.
“It’s not only our own health; it’s what we individually can do to help mitigate and stop community spread,” Malcolm said.