Gov. Tim Walz on Wednesday, March 18, said state directions to shut down schools, bars, restaurants and salons have been warranted amid the spread of the coronavirus. And he called for Minnesotans to be patient as they adapt to their new normal.

The comments came the same day the Minnesota Department of Health reported 77 cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, had been detected in Minnesota. But that figure likely underrepresents the total number of Minnesotans with the illness, Walz said, as more than 1,700 samples have been put on ice because the state lacks the tests it needs to assess the disease's spread in Minnesota.

From the Capitol, a Minnesota state House of Representatives employee was found to have a presumed case of COVID-19. Whether the person is a legislator or a House staffer remains undisclosed.

In their continuing attempt to implement an immediate, statewide behavioral intervention on a scale never before attempted, Minnesota health officials on Wednesday reiterated the message that testing for COVID-19 is far less important than staying home when you are sick.

Officially, this recommendation is for those with a fever and respiratory symptoms to self-isolate for seven days from the start of symptoms, or three days after the cessation of a fever without the assistance of medication, whichever is longest.

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More striking, however, is the state's additional directive, one that has largely escaped notice. Health officials ask that all household members and intimate partners of those who develop symptoms also stay home, and for 14 days from the start of a sick family member going into isolation.

North Dakota

The North Dakota Department of Health confirmed the state's first and second cases of community spread of COVID-19, the illness caused by coronavirus, on Wednesday, March 18.

A woman in her 30s and a girl between 10-19 years old, both from Morton County, have contracted the virus despite having no history of travel and no contact with any person who has been confirmed to have COVID-19. This means they likely caught it from someone with the illness in their community who has not yet been tested. The woman has not been hospitalized and is currently recovering at home.

The health department will now try to identify, contact and monitor others who came into close contact with the two people while they were symptomatic, according to a news release.

Morton County is in south-central North Dakota and has about 31,000 residents, most of whom live in or near Mandan.

The announcement of the new cases mean the state now has seven confirmed cases of the disease.

South Dakota

South Dakota has halted testing for the coronavirus due to a national shortage of lab supplies needed to process the tests, and state officials aren't sure when testing will resume.

The state public health laboratory had to stop testing coronavirus samples on Tuesday, March 17, when expected supplies weren't received, the state epidemiologist, Dr. Josh Clayton, told health care providers in an Wednesday morning email.

Meanwhile, Gov. Kristi Noem said there has been a "significant" number of people getting laid off from their jobs in the state, but didn't disclose specific numbers.

Around the region

  • The U.S. Senate approved additional coronavirus relief funding on Wednesday, providing support to the American people through the duration of the coronavirus outbreak. The bill will ensure there is no cost barriers for Americans who need to be tested for coronavirus, regardless of their personal financial of health insurance situation, provide tax credits to employers so they can help support American workers who are adversely affected by the coronavirus outbreak and increase the use and availability of telemedicine.

  • Following in the footsteps of their Democratic counterparts, Minnesota's Republican Party has cancelled upcoming in-person local conventions, opting instead for teleconference conventions in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

  • The Minnesota Board of Cosmetology late Tuesday, March 18, announced that hair salons, nail salons and spa facilities would be asked to immediately close their doors due to the coronavirus. The Minnesota Board of Dentistry recommended this week that dentist offices halt routine cleanings and appointments, and only provide emergency care for the next two weeks

  • Bethesda Hospital in St. Paul will be converted into a specialty care facility for COVID-19 patients, according to M Health Fairview.

  • In Wisconsin, 106 people have tested positive out of 1,577 overall tests.

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