ST PAUL, Minn. — A spike in COVID-19 cases in communities across Minnesota has state health officials taking the offensive when it comes to testing.
Beginning the week of Sept. 21, the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) will launch a four week effort to provide increased access to "no barrier" testing: That means coronavirus tests that are free and available to anyone who wants one, whether they're showing symptoms or not.
The first week of targeted testing will occur in Grand Rapids, Pine City and Waseca. The locations for following weeks are still being identified and will be communicated in coming days. Health officials will use testing data to identify cities and towns that are experiencing workplace clusters, are close to bordering states, or haven’t yet had larger-scale testing offered.
MDH hopes the strategy will help increase the geographic balance of testing across Minnesota, and respond where the health risk is greatest.
“The troublesome trends in our neighboring states are a reminder of how quickly we could go from walking the cliff’s edge to tumbling over it,” said MDH Commissioner Jan Malcolm. “We are deeply concerned about the spike of cases in communities all over the state where people don’t know how they contracted the virus. Community spread driven by people who don’t know they have it puts those most vulnerable to the worst complications at grave risk."
Testing will be done with a nasal swab, and processed either by Mayo Clinic Laboratories or the University of Minnesota working together through their recent partnership.
“Our state’s already strong testing capacity is allowing us to be proactive in our testing strategy,” said Kris Ehresmann, infectious disease director at MDH. “With this targeted push, we’re able to identify clusters of cases - whether they’re from weddings, funerals, backyard BBQs, Labor Day activities, going back to school, or being in the workplace, intervening now will prevent further spread and outbreaks.”
Teams from the Minnesota National Guard will be activated to provide some staffing and logistical support for the increased testing push. The Guard was previously activated for testing at long-term care facilities. In addition to combating existing levels of disease spread, the "no barriers" testing will provide important data to guide future efforts to combat COVID-19 and protect those who are most vulnerable to serious complications.
Here are details from week one of the targeted testing push.
10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Itasca County Fairgrounds
1336 Fairgrounds Rd, Grand Rapids
Registration link: Itasca County Community COVID-19 Testing: Schedule Appointment
12 p.m. to 6 p.m.
Pine City Armory
1305 Main St, Pine City
Registration link: Pine City Community Testing: Schedule Appointment
12 p.m. to 6 p.m.
Waseca High School Gym
1717 2nd St NW, Waseca
Registration link: Waseca Community Testing: Schedule Appointment