ROCHESTER, Minn. — Gov. Tim Walz joined state health officials and several mayors on Tuesday, Oct. 13, to announce the opening of three more walk-in COVID-19 saliva testing centers in the coming days.
Winona, Moorhead and Brooklyn Park testing centers will join the program's flagship collection site in Duluth, which has conducted 8,000 tests since opening on Sept. 3.
The opening of two centers on the state's northwestern and southeastern borders comes at a critical juncture in which Minnesota has become something of an oasis under fire.
As a state that has taken widespread and often unpopular but effective coronavirus mitigation measures, Minnesota is encircled by runaway spread in states that have made far less aggressive efforts in combating the virus.
"I think its obvious to most people that the Upper Midwest is now a hot spot," said Walz during an afternoon press call. "The state of Minnesota is surrounded by the first-, second-, and fourth-highest transmission rates in the country."
Walz said that spread in Minnesota is no longer defined by employment at places like meat processing plants, but is now the product of community spread at weddings, funerals and get-togethers.
"We want to cut off that community spread by making sure that people get tested as quickly and as easily as close to their home as they possibly can," he said. "The longer it takes for us to find out if somebody has this, the more they unknowingly spread it."
"Saliva testing is now part of Minnesota's strategy to expand and diversify the COVID testing options that are available," said Deputy Commissioner of Health Dan Huff. Huff said the state's new testing capacity will allow greater ability to encourage testing of close contacts and targeted testing.
While the state has added 65% more testing in just over a month, "cases are growing faster than testing is," Huff said., "and that is not good."
The Winona center opens Wednesday at the Winona Mall, while the Moorhead testing facility will open on Saturday at the site of the former Edison High School. A Brooklyn Park site, located in a former Office Max building in Starlight Center, and slated to open on Tuesday, Oct. 20, will be the first saliva testing in the metro area.
Six additional sites will open up later this month, Huff said, with two in Greater Minnesota and four more in the metro area. Health officials believe that when all of the sites and a new processing lab in Oakdale have opened, the state will have created the capacity to process an additional 30,000 tests daily.
The state currently can test that same amount, so the saliva testing centers will effectively raise the state's capacity to 60,000 tests a day. ATesting at Home kit is also in the works, an approach that will allow residents to request a kit online, then have it mail ordered via UPS. Huff said the state expects to launch a pilot for that initiative in the next few weeks.
The announcements come following a week in which the nation's leading medical journal, The New England Journal of Medicine, turned up the heat on federal failures of leadership in fighting the virus. In an unusually impolitic broadside entitled "Dying in a Leadership Vacuum," an editorial aimed in all but name at the "dangerously incompetent" federal leadership under President Donald Trump, it encouraged voters to choose other leadership.
"The magnitude of this failure is astonishing," the authors wrote, calling attention a U.S. death rate that "is more than double that of Canada, exceeds that of Japan... by a factor of almost 50," all in spite of the fact that "most of the interventions that have large effects are not complicated."
Lest any cast doubt on the gravity of this failure, on Tuesday the nation's other leading medical journal — JAMA — published an updating of the nation's excess deaths from COVID-19 and other causes. Those figures show that the U.S. is experiencing 20 % more deaths as of August 1 than it had as of this time in previous years, a spike that could presumably surpass 300,000 excess deaths by years' end.
"It's not singling anybody out," Walz said of the state's efforts to make COVID-19 testing its fastest-growing public activity. "It's about breaking the transmission of this virus. Minnesota has done a really nice job of staying stable, but you can go from stable to building emergency hospitals on your fairground — as Wisconsin, Arizona and New York have done — very, very quickly. This testing is a big piece of it."
The state of Minnesota reported an additional 1150 cases on COVID-19 on Tuesday, bringing the state's laboratory-confirmed case total to 114,574. The new cases come on the heels of an additional 19,444 tests.
There was a notable spike in St. Louis County, which reported an additional 71 cases.
The state reported an additional 7 deaths from the virus. They included single deaths each in Wilkin, Red Lake, and Hennepin counties, and 2 deaths each in Stearns and Martin counties. The total lives lost in the state due to COVID-19 have now reached 2,151.
There are now 483 patients hospitalized with COVID-19, 135 in an ICU setting. The illness has sent 2326 Minnesotans into the ICU this year.
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- Minnesota Department of Health COVID-19 hotline: 651-201-3920.
- COVID-19 discrimination hotline: 833-454-0148
- Minnesota Department of Health COVID-19 website: Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) website.