Minnesota to open 3 more COVID testing sites as demand surges

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz announced Tuesday the state will open three more COVID-19 community testing sites, including two in the Twin Cities metro, as demand for tests surges.

One new testing site will open in North Branch on Jan. 10 at the former Nike outlet store. The other two new testing locations will be in Anoka and Cottage Grove, but the locations have not been released yet.

The announcement comes after high demand for testing over the holidays caused long lines at state testing sites and a shortage of at-home tests.

"I ask for a little bit of patience," Walz said when asked about lack of at-home tests and long lines at state testing sites.

Additionally, Walz announced the Minnesota Department of Health has secured an additional 1.8 million at-home rapid tests for Minnesota schools, on top of the 1 million announced last month.

The state is also partnering with local public health and tribal health departments, food banks, and MDH COVID-19 Community Coordinators to distribute 150,000 at-home rapid antigen test kits in an effort to reduce barriers to testing for Minnesotans who are disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.

Minnesota’s surge in COVID-19 cases spurred by the highly contagious omicron variant is intensifying. Walz said White House officials told him on a call today that 95% of the country’s COVID cases are now the omicron variant.

MDH reported 16,204 new cases of COVID from Wednesday through Friday last week and 36 deaths. The lag in data reporting was due to the holiday weekend. The newly released data does not include infections from New Year’s Eve events.

After decreasing for several weeks, the state's seven-day rolling average positivity rate has spiked to12%, the highest since December 2020.

It also appears that Minnesota’s COVID hospitalizations have stopped their recent declines and may be headed back up again. MDH reported 1,680 total COVID-19 hospitalizations on Dec. 10. On Jan. 1 it was down to 1,311, but by Tuesday it had risen to 1,370.

"Things are going to be tight for a few weeks," said Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm. She said if you are sick, assume it is COVID-19 if you cannot get a test.

Walz, Malcolm and others visited a long-term care facility in Maplewood on Tuesday to highlight the Minnesota National Guard's role in fighting COVID-19. Last month, three National Guard nursing teams started supporting long-term care facilities across the state. The governor deployed the teams to help with staffing shortages.

It was Walz's first public event since being infected with COVID in late December. The governor said he had mild symptoms and has since tested negative.