The morning after Gov. Tim Walz announced that all Minnesotans would have access to free COVID-19 testing over the long holiday weekend, Wayne Gilbey of Hermantown received an email from a friend letting him know that one of the six testing sites was near his home.
That same morning, at 11:15 a.m. Saturday, Gilbey arrived at the Duluth Armory, 4015 Airpark Blvd., and got in a line outside the building where he stood at least 6 feet away from other asymptomatic Minnesotans, all wearing masks. About 40 minutes later he was finished.
"I just want to make sure I don't have it, and if I do I want to know," Gilbey said.
The Minnesota National Guard is conducting the testing at six locations around the state from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday through Monday.
Using interior nasal swabs, medically trained National Guard members collect the specimen that is sent to a Mayo Clinic laboratory.
The test itself was about 5 seconds of discomfort, but didn't hurt, Gilbey said.
Before people can pull into the parking lot, a National Guard member lists a series of possible COVID-19 symptoms. Those who have any of the symptoms are told to stay in their vehicles, where they will wait for someone to come conduct their test.
Those who say they don't have any symptoms are asked to get in line outside the building. Tests for people not exhibiting symptoms are conducted inside the building.
When the testing began at 10 a.m. Saturday, about 75 people were waiting in line. By noon, the site had quieted down and the line no longer extended outside.
Minnesota National Guard spokesperson Audra Flanagan said about 1,100 tests are available at the Duluth testing site and the plan is to conduct between 335-350 tests over the three-day period.
She emphasized that anyone from Minnesota can get tested, whether or not they're exhibiting symptoms.
"We want anyone from Minnesota who have not felt like they have access to testing. Who has not been able to get to a clinic," Flanagan said. "We want them to know this is open, this is free and anybody is welcome."
The first car arrived at 7:20 a.m., Flanagan said, and by 9 a.m. there were at least 20 cars waiting in the parking lot.
People who get tested can expect to get a phone call from a Mayo Clinic lab physician 3-5 days after the date of their test. People who test positive will receive a second phone call from the Minnesota Department of Health to begin the contact tracing process.
The National Guard team conducting the testing arrived Friday to Duluth from St. Paul, where they were training.
Testing will continue from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday and Monday at six different locations around the state.
COVID-19 testing locations
- East St. Paul, 1530 Maryland Ave. E., St. Paul
- Minneapolis Armory, 1025 Broadway St. NE, Minneapolis
- Moorhead Armory, 1002 15th Ave. N., Moorhead
- Duluth Armory, 4015 Airpark Blvd., Duluth
- Faribault Armory, 3000 W. Airport Road, Faribault
- St. James Armory, 521 Armstrong Blvd. N., St. James