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Gov. Tim Walz announces expanded COVID testing for Minnesotans

Walz said testing is key for keeping loved ones safe during the coronavirus pandemic, especially with the omicron variant's rapid spread.

MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota Governor Tim Walz announced Tuesday that more COVID-19 testing resources for the state will soon be available, including 1.8 million rapid tests for school districts across the state.

In his announcement, Gov. Walz said testing is key for keeping loved ones safe during the coronavirus pandemic, especially with the omicron variant continuing to spread.

The three-prong approach for expanding COVID testing in the state includes three new community testing sites, 1.8 million at-home rapid tests for school districts to give to families and 150,000 at-home rapid test kits for communities disproportionately affected by the pandemic.

After releasing an initial written statement, Walz appeared Tuesday alongside Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan, MDH Commissioner Jan Malcolm, members of the Minnesota National Guard and health care professionals from Maplewood Care Center, highlighting the work the National Guard has done for the community during the pandemic. Walz said over 500 Guard members have been trained as certified nursing assistants to work in long-term care facilities since November.

"To put your own family on hold and to come here and serve is the epitome of the selfless service," Walz said.

National Guard Maj. Gen. Shawn Manke added that Guard members undergo more than 70 hours of training in order to develop that additional skillset.

"We're working in the community which we live in; we work here and we serve here, and we continue to do what's needed in this time of need," Manke said.

Walz said the National Guard will also continue to help facilitate testing at sites around the state.

“I have directed the National Guard to operate more testing sites to make sure every Minnesotan has access to the convenient testing they deserve," Walz said in a statement, "and we’re partnering with schools and community groups to make sure rapid tests are available to students, teachers, and families everywhere.”

One of the three new sites will be in North Branch, with the other two in the Twin Cities metro. The North Branch site will open Jan. 10 and walk-ins will be available, but officials strongly recommend making an appointment.

Walz said the other potential sites are scheduled to open in Anoka and Cottage Grove in the coming days and weeks. A list of the state's other community testing sites can be found here.

The post-holiday rush at testing sites continued on Tuesday, with lines out the door again at the Brooklyn Park location. 

Jeremy Miller said it appeared the rapid-test line was taking a few hours, although his saliva test only took 30 minutes to obtain.

"It's busy. Really, really busy," Miller said. "I saw people walking in and walking away because they didn't want to wait in the line. People are leaving because they can't get the test -- that's not the greatest idea either." 

With so many people having difficulty finding tests, health commissioner Malcolm said people with symptoms should continue to stay home until they can get a negative result.

"Assume that you have COVID -- if you have any symptoms at all," Malcolm said. "With this amount of virus in the state, it's very possible that you do." 

The 1.8 million at-home rapid tests are in addition to the 1 million at-home rapid tests he secured for Minnesota schools last month.

Each of the 150,000 at-home rapid test kits include two COVID tests. Minnesotans can request them online.

"We need folks, if you suspect you are ill, to get tested," Flanagan added. "We need to count on each other to do the right thing. Get tested, get boosted and please, please stay home if you are sick."

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