Minnesota leaders discuss plans to increase COVID-19 testing

Testing for COVID-19 did increase slightly Thursday as a ramp-up across Minnesota begins. Health care workers are a top priority, but what comes next? There were lots of questions today for the Minnesota Health Department from a legislative panel on how this will work and how it might get us back to a new normal.

COVID-19 testing started out slow in Minnesota because of a big problem with the supply chain. The assistant health commissioner testified Thursday in a virtual House committee hearing that the new agreement between the state, Mayo Clinic and the University of Minnesota that will change quickly.

“Yes, we are making tests available, so we’re moving away from scarcity,” said Dan Huff, the assistant state health commissioner. “I imagine we’ll see every day now increases in the amount of testing being performed.”

In fact, Wednesday was the largest number of tests yet at 2,204. It’s not the 20,000 a day promised, but officials say that it should increase every day toward that number. In the coming weeks, health care facilities will be opening up testing to all symptomatic patients. The testing criteria until now has been fairly restrictive due to the test shortage.

Authorities still need to figure out strategies to focus testing on communities of color, people experiencing homelessness, jail and prison populations, and longterm care facilities, where the majority of fatal cases are occurring.

When questioned about whether widespread tests can allow elective procedures and surgeries to ramp up, the answer from Mayo Clinic is yes.

“And we’re starting to open up the more elective type procedures with the goal of being fully up by August, by this summer, ramping things up by about 20 percent each month,” said Dr. Bobbi Pritt of the Mayo Clinic.

During the hearing, state Rep. Rod Hamilton (R - Mountain Lake) pled for the state to use this capacity to ramp up faster.

“But I just would be beside myself if I didn’t stress the urgency of this,” said Hamilton. “Because this is very, very real. People are filing bankruptcy out here and farmers are being destroyed along with their livestock and crops.”

Authorities caution that testing, even immunity testing, will help greatly, but aren’t on their own the magic answer.

“So we can’t just say that now that we have testing, that we don’t just open the doors and everything returns to normal,” said Huff.