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What to know about COVID testing as demand for at-home kits rises

Minnesota's at-home saliva tests are still widely available as other options sell out. The state is also making rapid tests available to schools.

MINNEAPOLIS — The emergence of the delta variant has led to a re-emergence of COVID testing demand across Minnesota. The Minnesota Department of Health opened additional community testing sites in recent weeks, and now, with schools back open and big events like football games and concerts happening more often, at-home test options are increasingly hard to find online and in stores nationwide.

"Certainly we do anticipate at-home test demand will increase. We have already seen that over the last few weeks," said Joanna Dornfeld, MDH assistant commissioner of health. "But we are fortunate here in the state of Minnesota that we do have an at-home program that's very easy for Minnesotans to access free at home test kits."

Dornfeld is talking about the at-home saliva test kit offered by Vault Health, which any Minnesotan can request for free at any time. With CDC guidance calling for unvaccinated students and employees to get tested once a week, if you think you might need one in the coming weeks, Dornfeld says it's not a bad idea to order one now.

Vault Health CEO Jason Feldman would agree.

"Demand for testing is increasing across the entire country," Feldman said. "Over the last four weeks we've seen demand for tests more than double — in some parts of the country almost quadruple — and it really is in concert with the number of cases and the continued spread of the delta variant."

Feldman says the company has been getting even more calls in the last few days, as companies look to expand testing options in the wake of President Biden's announcement about a mandate for all large companies to require employees to either be vaccinated or receive weekly tests.

Despite the surge in interest, Feldman says it won't impact availability in Minnesota.

"The rate of testing that can be produced for Minnesotans is among the highest anywhere and the return times are about a day," Feldman said. 'It is because of that preparation that if you live in Minnesota, you have a better-than-average chance of being able to find a test exactly when you need it and getting that result as fast as possible."

And if you have a child in school, keep in mind, the state is also making some additional rapid tests from CUE and Binax available for schools to use for students. It's unclear which districts will elect to use which tests.

"School districts are still in the process, many of them, of assessing kind of what testing option is going to best meet their needs, and so, while the state has already begun shipping tests to some school districts, we continue to take incoming requests," Dornfield said.

Dornfield added that parents should contact their child's school to find out which tests are available there.

"Every school district has the option, or choice, to determine how and what test they may want to offer, or if they want to offer tests," he said. "It's also important to know that just because your district offers a test, that parents also get to make the choice about whether or not their students are tested at school."

For more information on all the school COVID testing recommendations and options for 2021-2022, click here.

Minnesotans looking to order an at-home saliva test, click here.