Minneapolis Gears Up for COVID-19

Start washing your hands, stop touching your face. Handshakes have been replaced with elbow bumps. Avoid close contact with other humans. While the young and healthy are not at great personal risk once infected, experts are recommending social distancing to slow the spread of the coronavirus known as COVID-19. There’s no reason to hoard toilet paper or bottled water. I reacted to the increasingly dire news of a global pandemic by buying three boxes of macaroni (there were four left — you’re welcome, humanity).

Remember, you aren’t taking precautions for yourself. You’re helping to limit spread of the virus. You’re protecting hospitals from being overwhelmed far beyond their capacity to treat people who need ICU beds and ventilators:

2.4 million to 21 million people in the U.S. could require hospitalization, potentially crushing the nation’s medical system, which has only about 925,000 staffed hospital beds. Fewer than a tenth of those are for people who are critically ill.

On Friday, interim city coordinator Ruff and health commissioner Gretchen Musicant updated the City Council on the city’s COVID-19 response. The business of the city continues, says Ruff: “We will still undertake procurement process, of awarding contracts, of keeping the economy moving in a safe fashion.”

Public engagement for ongoing policy debates like the Transportation Action Plan and planning for the newly acquired Nicollet Kmart site is still happening, but not necessarily with public meetings. “We will in some ways, as staff, find this as an opportunity and a challenge to engage people in a way that’s not traditional.”

Lisa Goodman wondered how to get people to stop “this ridiculous rush to Costco to buy pallets of water.” The city’s water supply (that serves Minneapolis and 20 nearby suburbs) is EPA-certified clean, filtered, doesn’t come into contact with humans, and isn’t the kind of highly staffed operation that’s going to be interrupted by this pandemic. The city has also stopped shutting off water service for nonpayment during the current emergency.

Council Member Andrew Johnson is fielding constituent complaints about the city’s toilet paper shortage. “I was at a Target store last night and some constituents spotted me and said this is the third store we’ve gone to to try to get toilet paper and they’re out.”

Council Member Jeremiah Ellison’s response to the shortage: “Certainly some of the lack of toilet paper and some of the hoarding is illustrating our need for more bidets in the US.”

Health commissioner Musicant said the city is working on monitoring essential supplies to ensure continuity of operation for visiting nurses and community clinics. “We think of the supplies that we all have collectively as a pool that can help fill in gaps so that we don’t have services disrupted.” The health department is also creating guidance for city staff to reuse N95 masks — often discarded after a single use — up to five times; or having firefighters enter a medical call first, leaving police outside, unmasked, unless those officers are needed.

There’s been some action to temporarily halt evictions during the crisis, as a public safety measure. It’s intended to keep people out of crowded courthouse security lines that one tenants advocate said “will kill people.” The Star Tribune writes, “Starting March 16, housing court hearings for unpaid rent and unlawful detainers are among the proceedings suspended, according to a news release late Friday.”

Andrew Johnson announced at Friday’s Council meeting that US Internet would be offering free WiFi internet to all Minneapolis residents starting early next week, to ensure equitable access to information during this health emergency.

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