By Liz Collin

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Minnesota’s health leaders are planning their fight against COVID for one year from now.

Joe Kelly, the state’s director of the Department of Homeland Security, has been on the frontlines of the public health emergency since day one.

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WCCO sat down with Kelly to reflect on the challenges that remain.

“Six months ago I wouldn’t have been even able to tell you what ‘community spread’ even meant, nor would I have known an N95 from a surgical mask, but we’ve all learned a lot,” Kelly said.

Kelly was once a staple of the daily COVID-19 briefings, but he says Minnesotans should be reassured we’re not hearing much from him.

“Yeah, I think it’s a good thing because that immediate urgency, that response, we’ve gotten past that stage,” he said.

From stockpiling PPE, to a testing capacity of 20,000 people a day, and preparing an alternate care site in Roseville to handle non-COVID cases if hospitals would run out of room.

“We can’t hope that the hospitals won’t run out of capacity. We have to have a plan if they do,” Kelly said.

It’s the same approach to a controversial temporary morgue the state paid nearly $7 million for in May.

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“It was a wise decision at the time. It’s still too early to say, and I’m glad we have it,” he said.

Back then, a University of Minnesota model predicted as many as 44,000 Minnesotans would die in a year from COVID-19. So far, 1,685 people have, and high hospitalization and death numbers from May have fallen since.

But Kelly says the future is still unclear as scientists still don’t fully understand the virus.

“That’s the challenge here … the virus has a vote, and we don’t know it yet,” Kelly said.

He believes it’s too important to not at least be trying to get kids back into schools this fall, where there isn’t high community spread. And he reminds us all of the role we play in the future.

“I hope going forward we don’t have any regrets as individuals that we didn’t do everything that we could do by ourselves and with our families, or place of work to keep this thing from getting out of hand,” he said.

Kelly also talked about the dire need for a new emergency operations center after power outages and sewer problems. It’s been in operation in St. Paul for 150 days straight, a record for any Minnesota disaster. A new building is part of the bonding bill that is still awaiting final passage at the Minnesota State Capitol.

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Liz Collin