ST. PAUL -- A Minnesota state House of Representatives employee was found to have a presumed case of COVID-19.

Whether the person is a legislator or a House staffer remains undisclosed. In a Wednesday, March 18 written statement, House Speaker Melissa Hortman, D-Brooklyn Park, said the House will not disclose further identifying information on the employee because of health privacy laws and HR policies.

"The Minnesota House of Representatives is continuing to follow the guidelines from the Minnesota Department of Health to keep legislators, staff and the public safe as we do our work to respond to this pandemic," Hortman said. "We ask that anyone with questions contact the MDH hotline and not members or staff of the House. We cannot provide any further information beyond what has been released here.”

The news comes days after the Minnesota Legislature decided to recess for one month amid the pandemic, with the option to call themselves back to address emergency legislation. Gov. Tim Walz has declared a peacetime emergency, and has asked that Minnesotans avoid group gatherings in order to prevent community spread of the virus.

Walz said he was notified about the case on Wednesday and didn’t immediately see a need to close the Capitol to mitigate the spread there. He added that he was in contact with legislative leaders to determine the best path forward.

“We have to keep democracy open,” Walz said. “There are things we need the Legislature to do.”

In an email sent to House members and staffers on Wednesday, House HR Director Kelly Knight said employees working in the State Office Building and Capitol may have been exposed to the virus. COVID-19 is a respiratory illness caused by exposure to coronavirus, and has paralyzed the state as the pandemic sweeps across the nation.

She said that others identified as having close contact with the infected employee will be contacted directly by HR. Those who begin experiencing COVID-19 symptoms such as fever, cough and sore throat are encouraged to contact their health care providers and inform House HR.

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