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Minnesota coronavirus testing now nearly entirely private

COVID-19 virus photographed through a powerful microscope. The spikes on the outer edge of the virus particles give coronaviruses their name, crown-like. NIAID-RML

ROCHESTER, Minn. — The Minnesota Department of Health reported another 51 cases and one death from coronavirus on Monday, April 6.

The death was a 98-year-old resident of an assisted living facility in Ramsey County, bringing the statewide total to 30. Redwood and Murray counties both added cases for the first time, and ICU use jumped by nine cases to 57.

The interest in long term care and coronavirus spiked over the weekend, as the health department released the names of each congregate living facility in the state to have reported a case in a resident or worker. On Monday, state health commissioner Jan Malcolm cautioned that the list should not be viewed as a means to distrust the facilities named.

"I'm hearing a lot of concern from long term care facilities about how people are interpreting the list," said Malcolm during an afternoon press conference with Gov. Tim Walz and other state officials. "Having a facility on the list simply means they have a case, it does not mean the facility is deficient in some way, or has done anything wrong. These facilities are working very hard to protect their residents and staff. We should expect that many facilities will have cases, just as many workplaces will have cases."

On a Monday after a weekend in which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention formally recommended that Americans wear cloth face coverings in areas where it becomes hard to maintain social distancing, Malcolm also reiterated the state's ongoing position on masks, which is that wearing a face covering should never take an N95 mask that could go to a healthcare worker, nor should doing so give a false sense of security that the wearer does not need to practice social distancing.


"People who are sick need to be staying home and isolating, not feeling likes it's safe to go out because they are wearing a mask," Malcolm said. "Your mask protects me, and my mask protects you, but these are not masks that protect the wearers. These are secondary protection, with the primary remaining frequent hand washing, covering coughs and social distancing. Whatever you do, it's critical you don't start wearing N95 masks, as these are desperately needed by healthcare workers and first responders."

The health department conducted just 30 tests Sunday, while Mayo Clinic and scattered private laboratories conducted over 1,200, a difference underscoring the declining ability of the state health department to take part in testing. Contacted on Wednesday, Dr. Bobbi Pritt of the department of laboratory mediciane and pathology at Mayo Clinic said that the clinic is contributing "1,000 to 1,500 tests daily within the state," a number equal to the private test volume listed each day on the Minnesota Department of Health web page, adding that the clinic has contributed 13,500 tests within the state so far.

What's lesser known is that nationally, Mayo Clinic has tested another 62,000 samples, moreover, providing results for patients in their smaller Florida and Arizona campuses, as well as hard-hit areas like New York and New Orleans.

But while the clinic has access to more test materials do state health officials, "unfortunately we are dealing with many of the same supply chain problems," Pritt said. As result, Mayo has not expanded its pool of suitable test subjects beyond those tested by the state — symptomatic patients at elevated risk from COVID-19, health care workers with symptoms, and hospitalized patients with symptoms of COVID-19.

Because of this limited test population, the statewide case count, widely considered to be unrepresentative of the true spread of the illness in the state, is only now poised to breach 1,000 at 986 cases.

Also on Monday, the state announced the creation of a Department of Human Rights hotline at (833) 454-0148 for persons who have experienced discrimination due the outbreak.

"It's unfortunate this is happening," Walz said, "but it still continues to happen. We're still getting way too many calls about xenophobia and racism because of COVID-19, especially aimed at the Asian-American community. I know that the vast majority out there are supporting their neighbors and doing what needs to be done, but this is a time for us to stand up and help our neighbors."

The state does appear to have high hopes for expanded so-called sero-testing of the population, given the announcement last week that Mayo Clinic has released a test to determine if a person has antibodies to the illness.


"Yes we are making plans for that," Malcolm said. "The governor has spoken about the workgroups he has tasked to taking advantage of this lead time that social distancing has bought us. One of those workstreams is developing the testing strategy of the future — not only the diagnostic tests, but also the serology tests."

"I'm confident that in a month from now we would be able to do much broader serologic testing," said Pritt. "The hope of being able to do a serosurvey and possibly use results to help stratify people as to their risk of getting infected or not...those folks may be able to go back to work...I think our goal would really be to support the state and be able to test other patients in Minnesota."

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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 .


Related Topics: HEALTH
Paul John Scott is the health reporter for NewsMD and the Rochester Post Bulletin. He is a novelist and was an award-winning magazine journalist for 15 years prior to joining the FNS in 2019.
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