MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Due to concerns over the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), a healthcare provider in central Minnesota says it’s no longer allowing visitors in its hospitals, senior care facilities, and other places were a large number of people are staying.

CentraCare announced Thursday that the new policy is effective immediately, explaining that the safety of patients and staff are the top priority.

“Visitors impacted by this policy include patient family and friends, students, volunteers and non-essential contracted vendors,” CentraCare said in a statement. “Exceptions will be made for patient/resident family members under special circumstances.”

The policy applies to all of CentraCare’s hospitals, long-term care facilities, senior housing, hospital outpatient departments, and ambulatory surgery centers.

CentraCare has hospitals in St. Cloud, Sauk Centre, Melrose, Monticello and other central Minnesota cities.

So far, there have been nine cases of COVID-19 confirmed in Minnesota.

In most cases, those with the virus show mild symptoms, such as a cough or a sore throat. However, some people, like the elderly and those with sensitive lungs, the disease can be life-threatening. Still, the vast majority of those affected by COVID-19 recover.