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Mall of America closes as Minnesota fights against COVID-19

Associated Press

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Shoppers, visitors and employees leave the Mall of America Tuesday, March 17, 2020 as the mall in Bloomington, Minn. moments before it closed temporarily through at least March 31 in an effort to limit the spread of the coronavirus. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The largest retail and entertainment center in the U.S. shut down Tuesday in support of Minnesota’s efforts to combat the COVID-19 pandemic by discouraging people from gathering.

The Mall of America in the Minneapolis suburb of Bloomington, which draws visitors from across the country and around the world, closed its doors at 5 p.m. Tuesday and said they’ll remain shut through at least March 31. It cited orders from Gov. Tim Walz that are aimed at stopping the spread of the coronavirus.

“These are unprecedented times that require unprecedented actions,” mall management said in a statement. “We are confident we will get through these challenging times and look forward to reopening our doors to the Minnesota community and the world.”

The Minnesota Department of Health said Tuesday that 60 residents had tested positive for the virus, six more cases since Monday. But Kris Ehresmann, the department’s infectious disease director, acknowledged that the figure is an undercount because not everyone who is infected gets tested, so many cases go undiagnosed. Three patients were hospitalized as of Tuesday, but no deaths have been reported in Minnesota.

The department moved Tuesday to limit who gets tested due to a national shortage of testing materials. The priorities will be people who are hospitalized, health care workers, and residents of congregate living facilities such as senior housing, nursing homes and other long term care facilities, Ehresmann told reporters.

“Having a positive COVID test for someone who is not hospitalized, who has mild symptoms, is not a magic bullet,” she said. “It doesn’t inform the treatment, because there is no treatment, and it doesn’t change our recommendations for staying home when you’re sick.”

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 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.

In the overnight hours Tuesday, the Minnesota Legislature voted unanimously to approve $200 million to help the state’s health care system respond to the pandemic. The governor signed the legislation later in the day.

The bill allocates $150 million for a new health care response fund. The Minnesota Department of Health will use it to make grants to providers to help them respond to the outbreak. The money can be used for temporary sites to provide testing services, treatment beds and isolate affected patients, among other things.

The bill also provides $50 million for an existing public heath response contingency account that can be tapped more quickly to help providers, ambulance services, clinics, hospitals and long-term care facilities.

The House passed the bill shortly after 3 a.m., about an hour after the Senate approved it 55-0.

“While each of us is working as hard as we can to decrease the risk of transmission, we must ensure our health care providers have the resources they need to take care of Minnesotans who may be afflicted with COVID-19,” Democratic House Speaker Melissa Hortman said in a statement.

The Legislature is in recess because of the pandemic until April 14 unless leaders call lawmakers back for essential business.

The votes came the day after Walz ordered bars and restaurants across Minnesota to temporarily close by 5 p.m. Tuesday through March 27. Delivery and curbside takeout services may continue. The order also applies to theaters, museums, fitness centers and community clubs. Supermarkets, pharmacies and other retailers are covered by the order.

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