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MN makes progress on Coronavirus testing backlog, equipment shortage

State leaders say private partnerships and donations have helped buy time until Federal help catches up.

Just two weeks after announcing the state's first case of Coronavirus, the Minnesota Department of Health has now confirmed 115 cases. Just 5 cases are currently hospitalized, but with 15 known cases of community transmission, MDH says the actual number of cases is much higher.

"This means Covid-19 is circulating in all our communities," said Kris Ehresmann, Director of Infectious Disease for the Minnesota Department of Health.

But as the cases grow, so does a statewide effort to catch up on testing.

A big increase in capacity by the Mayo clinic helped reduce a state backlog of 1,700 untested samples down to less than 1,300 in about a day. Now the University of Minnesota and M Health Fairview are ramping up another testing facility with one thing in mind.

"Our goal is to expand that list of people who we test to more essential workers," said MDH Commissioner, Jan Malcolm.

Essential workers are also the focus of a focused effort by state agencies to bring needed protective supplies that are dwindling in medical settings.

"The new letters everybody's learning is PPE - personal protective equipment," said Governor Walz. "We want to know exactly when a hospital or healthcare system is going to run out of that gear to make sure that we're feeling out, that we can move from the state to resupply those."

MDH says critical federal stockpiles of masks, face shields and gowns are slowly beginning to arrive.

"We received a partial order today, but we're unclear where the rest of it is," Malcolm said. "So the other two orders that we put in ourselves have not yet been responded to."

In the meantime, a growing number of Minnesota companies are stepping up in any way they can. Greiner Construction was one of several businesses to donate protective equipment to healthcare facilities late this week.  

Hennepin Healthcare received Greiner's donation of 120 N-95 masks and protective suits. They will now hand off the supplies to the Regional Hospital Resource Center.

"We've been getting inundated from our healthcare entities around the metro region that they are in dire need or at crisis level of lack of PPE," said Seth Jones, with Hennepin Healthcare. "So this donation is not just going to help HCMC, Hennepin Healthcare, but it's going to help the entire metro region."

"It might be a small deal with 120 masks but we're just trying to help," said Hans Siefker, with Greiner Construction. "Anything we can do to help, that's what we want to do."

"They're in more need of them than we are," said Josh Helgesen, with Greiner Construction.

"You know you hear Governor Walz talk about Minnesotans coming together during these times and this is what this is a sign of," Jones said.

So many companies have offered to come forward with donations that Minnesota has just set up a central email address for people wanting to donate protective equipment. Email hsem.ppp@state.mn.us if you have something to drop off.

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The state of Minnesota has set up a hotline for general questions about coronavirus at 651-201-3920 or 1-800-657-3903, available 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

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