MANKATO — Prepare, but don’t panic.
This was the message Friday from the South Central Minnesota Health Care Coalition, a regional alliance of 11 counties, 15 hospitals and about 100 organizations, which held a press conference to discuss area involvement and preparedness for COVID-19, also known as the coronavirus.
Representatives from the medical community, education and public health sector were on hand to comment and answer questions.
At the time of the press conference, Minnesota had 14 confirmed cases of COVID-19, but that number will change rapidly as more testing is made available. This week, Mayo Clinic announced it had developed a test to detect the virus that would ease some of the current burden on the Centers for Disease Control and public health laboratories. The test follows the CDC’s recommended guidelines.
Testing for COVID-19 reverses the usual norms for seeking medical treatment. People who are experiencing a fever, cough and difficulty breathing should not go to a clinic or emergency room, as would be the normal practice. Instead, they should first contact their primary care provider or clinic for instructions on how they can be evaluated.
“Simply appearing in the Emergency Department or reception area of a hospital or clinic may expose others. If you call first, we have time to prepare for your visit,” said Dr. Eric Gomez, infectious disease specialist for Mayo Clinic Health System.
In an added step to protect health care workers and other patients from exposure to COVID-19, Mayo Clinic is setting up drive-thru clinics in Fairmont, New Prague and Mankato, but Gomez cautioned that people who do not have testing ordered by their physician will not be seen at these drive-thru clinics.
The Fairmont testing site is at an off-campus location, and patients will be directed there when a test is ordered by a provider.
While the majority of patients will be able to cope with COVID-19, symptoms can be severe for those over the age of 60 and people with underlying health issues such as diabetes, heart disease and lung problems.
Gomez encouraged everyday health habits: Wash your hands. Cover your mouth if you cough or sneeze. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. Stay home from work, church and school if you are sick.
While elementary and high schools have ceased athletic and academic competitions and other large group events, the 37 colleges in the Minnesota State system have extended their spring breaks for one week to allow time to explore “alternate academic delivery methods” to the normal classroom instruction.
Minnesota State University-Mankato has suspended classes for the rest of the semester although the campus and residence halls remain open. The school has 14,000 students from all 50 states and 90 countries and offers more than 3,300 different classes this semester.
If the public has specific questions, they can call the Minnesota Department of Health hotline from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays at (651) 201-3920 or (800) 657-3902.