MINNESOTA, USA — The Minnesota Department of Health is limiting the groups of people who are eligible to be tested for coronavirus due to a supply shortage, as the state confirms its first cases among health care workers.
The MDH sent out a letter to health care providers across the state Tuesday, saying it has changed the testing criteria to focus on the "highest priority" specimens, including hospitalized patients. Health care workers and people living in congregate settings like nursing homes will also be given high priority.
MDH said the change is due to a "limited supply" of testing materials. The department is also asking hospitals and health care systems to first see if they can send specimens to a commercial reference laboratory.
In the letter, MDH also asked those providers to only send specimens of hospitalized patients, health care workers and people living in congregate settings for testing.
MDH confirmed that several healthcare workers are among those who have tested positive. That includes 13 people who work various jobs in healthcare settings. According to an MDH spokesperson, "All have been exposed through travel or other exposures, not as part of their work or patient contact. Workplace exposures were very limited as healthcare workers knew to isolate themselves when ill."
In a statement on Tuesday, Hennepin Healthcare announced that one of its staff members has the virus.
"This person has a recent domestic travel history and has been doing well at home since becoming symptomatic," the release said. "The public can be reassured that anyone who may have had a medium or high-risk exposure has been identified and contacted."
Due to the changes in testing criteria, M Health Fairview drive-up testing centers are now closed. Patients can still receive care online through OnCare.org.
Hospitals and doctors are being asked to tell people who have a fever and/or respiratory symptoms (cough, shortness of breath) to self-quarantine for seven days, or three days after the fever resolves. This is the guidance even if those people do not meet the standard for testing.
Those patients are also asked to isolate themselves from "household and intimate contacts" as much as possible. Those intimate contacts are asked to "limit their activities in public" for 14 days, and monitor for symptoms.
People who have coronavirus or suspect they have it, but are not severely ill, are being asked to stay home while they recover. If they have underlying conditions or are older adults, MDH asks that they contact their health care provider.
Patients are being told to seek care if their symptoms become severe, and to call ahead to the hospital or clinic whenever possible.
MDH Infectious Disease Director Kris Ehresmann emphasized in a news conference Tuesday that for people who are not hospitalized, a positive diagnostic test does not mean a change to their treatment or isolation. There is no treatment for coronavirus at this point other than the clinical trials that are only available for those who are hospitalized.
Minnesota Governor Tim Walz has sent a letter asking Vice President Mike Pence for an immediate increase in tests available to Minnesota health care providers.
The MDH says COVID-19, or coronavirus, is spread primarily by respiratory droplets from a cough or a sneeze, but it can also spread when people touch contaminated surfaces and then touch their eyes, nose or mouth.
More information about the symptoms of COVID-19 can be found on MDH’s Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) website, as well as additional information about how to protect yourself and your community.
MDH has set up a coronavirus hotline at 651-201-3920. People can call and ask questions 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day.
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