ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — The Minnesota Legislature sharply scaled back its operations Monday, all but adjourning for a month, as the number of coronavirus cases in the state spiked to 54.
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Top House and Senate leaders kept their distances from each other and reporters at a news conference, where they said they would hold committee meetings and floor sessions on an on-call basis only through April 14. When they do meet to pass time-sensitive, essential legislation, they'll only use spaces that allow six feet of distance between people. But constituents can still reach their lawmakers by phone and email.
"This is uncharted territory," Republican House Majority Leader Paul Gazelka said.
A bill to provide funding to hospitals to help them prepare, was still being negotiated and details weren't immediately available, but the leaders said they hoped to pass it Monday.
Democratic House Speaker Melissa Hortman said she "wouldn't be surprised" if they come back to extend the state income tax filing deadline past April 15, as the federal government plans to do.
"This is a time that is unlike any that we've experienced, except for maybe 9/11," Hortman said.
For most people, the new 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 people recover within weeks. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild cases of COVID-19 recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe cases may take three to six weeks to get better.
The Minnesota Department of Health said 54 residents have tested positive for the virus as of midday Monday, a jump from 35 on Sunday. Most reside in the seven-county Twin Cities metropolitan area, but there have also been confirmed cases in Blue Earth, Olmstead, Renville, Stearns and Waseca counties in Greater Minnesota.
During the hiatus, Hortman said, lawmakers will focus on bills related to COVID-19, "mission critical" legislation such as a public works borrowing bill, and proposals that have broad bipartisan support.
Gov. Tim Walz on Sunday ordered public schools to close by Wednesday through March 27 to give administrators and teachers time to make plans for switching to distance learning. Several districts canceled classes starting Monday, including St. Paul, while Minneapolis schools will close Tuesday.
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