COVID-19 cases grow to 9 in Minnesota; Riverland, NIACC suspend classes

Published 9:15 pm Thursday, March 12, 2020

ST. PAUL — Health officials said Thursday that the coronavirus threat in Minnesota doesn’t yet warrant closing schools; however, schools should take steps to reduce the risks of an outbreak as the number of cases in the state nearly doubled on Thursday to nine.

Schools should reduce the frequency of large gatherings, consider checking the temperatures of students, staff and visitors, and consider online-only teaching for students with significant underlying health conditions, said Kris Ehresmann, the infectious disease director at the Minnesota Department of Health. No cases have been reported at a Minnesota school so far, she said.

“Minnesota is not at a point where we are seeing community transmission” of the disease, Ehresmann said.

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The number of COVID-19 cases in Minnesota jumped from five on Wednesday to nine on Thursday. The new cases involved people from Hennepin, Dakota and Stearns counties, officials said.

Meanwhile, the spread of the virus led to the unprecedented cancellation or suspension of major sporting events and leagues on Thursday. The NHL, Major League Soccer and Major League Baseball followed the NBA’s lead and suspended or delayed their seasons, resulting in cancellations of Thursday night’s Minnesota Wild home game against the Vegas Golden Knights, and the home openers for Minnesota United on Sunday night and the Minnesota Twins on April 2.

The NCAA cancelled all championship tournaments, including March Madness and the Division I wrestling meet at U.S. Bank Stadium, which had been scheduled for March 19-21. Skiing officials called off the Cross Country World Cup that was set for Tuesday in Minneapolis. And the National Collegiate Hockey Conference canceled its tournament, which was set to start Friday.

About the only show that did go on was the high school girls’ basketball tournament in Minneapolis. The general public was allowed in, but the Minnesota State High School League said it would limit attendees starting Friday to participants, staff, media and “a small number of school-approved spectators.” Plans were still being developed for the boys tournament next weekend.

Riverland Community College announced it will suspend classes March 16 to March 22, with classes resuming March 23. This includes both face-to-face courses, as well as courses offered through online or other methods.

An email sent out to students Thursday afternoon said administrators, faculty and staff will report to work as usual, so plans can be developed to teach classes using alternative modes of delivery.

“We are working to stay informed with the latest information and prepared for COVID-19,” said Riverland President Adenuga Atewologun in the email. “We are hoping you as students can take the proper precautions to help the entire Riverland community stay safe and physically well.”

North Iowa Area Community College announced it was eliminating face-to-face classes the week of March 16 to March 20 to allow self-isolation and social distancing to be a priority for anyone who traveled during spring break.

Existing online courses will resume March 16 as planned, and then starting March 23, the majority of classes will be delivered online until further notice. 

For most people, the coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The vast majority of victims recover. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild cases recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe cases can take three to six weeks to get better.

At the Minnesota Capitol, Gov. Tim Walz proposed saving instead of spending $1.2 billion of the state’s projected $1.5 billion budget surplus because of the uncertainties over how the pandemic will affect the economy. And leaders were discussing whether to follow the lead of Congress, which closed the U.S. Capitol to visitors.

Walz also recommended that lawmakers pass the most important bills quickly so they can go home for the year. He listed his priorities as a public works borrowing bill that would create jobs in the jolted economy, more steps to fight the pandemic and money to respond to spring flooding.

“This is not the time to posture around issues that we’re not going to reach consensus around, not the things that aren’t going to get done,” the Democratic governor said.