MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. (WCCO) — As Minnesota prepares to fight coronavirus, now known officially as “COVID-19” Commissioner of Health Jan Malcom says it’s a matter of when, not if.

In an afternoon teleconference update, Commissioner Malcolm said, “we must anticipate that one or more cases of COVID-19 will be confirmed in the weeks to come.”

But of four people tested in the state so far, none has tested positive with the respiratory illness. Still, clinics and hospitals across the state are preparing for when they will.

“We’re in one of our triage rooms here in our emergency department,”  infection prevention manager with Abbott Northwestern Hospital, Jessica Nerby said.

It’s where an Abbott Northwestern Hospital patient would begin the initial coronavirus screening.

“We ask them always about foreign travel and other screening questions, like how do they feel today, do you have a cough, a fever or a sore throat? And if they say yes to that, we ask them to wear a mask because we want to contain the virus,” Nerby said.

That’s critical to stopping a wider spread of the disease. Coronavirus is transmitted to other people mainly through airborne respiratory droplets.

That’s why medical staff who attend to patients will wear this a special device called a CAPR, or Powered Air Purifying Respirators. It’s like a high-tech helmet with an attached clear face shield. It is designed to protect their face from airborne particles while purifying the air around them.

“What it does is the air gets filtered and then gets pushed out to the health care worker,” Nerby said.

Nearby, medical supply carts carry sanitizers and signs, gowns and gloves. And each of the triage rooms can be sealed with a negative air pressure. That will assure absolute virus containment.

“The air is contained in the room so it can’t escape and send infectious particles out into the hall,” Nerby said.

Hospitals and clinics have their protocols in place – but for the general public, the best protection is common sense.

“We know how to protect ourselves against respiratory viruses in the community. Washing hands, covering our noses and mouths if we sneeze and stay home if you’re sick,” Nerby said.

Bill Hudson