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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – With energetic determination, Dr. Jakub Tolar, dean at the University of Minnesota Medical School, delivered a hopeful message to Minnesotans on April 22 at Gov. Tim Walz’s daily press conference.

“We are no longer to be seen in this state as victims of this pandemic, but rather victors,” Tolar said.

He was there as the state announced a partnership between the University of Minnesota, Mayo Clinic and HealthPartners to accelerate testing capacity in Minnesota.

After two weeks of ramped-up testing, coupled with a rising case count and death toll, Dr. Tolar remains unwavered.

“We are here to adapt to that pandemic,” Tolar said. “We are part of it.”

While the virus is dangerous, Dr. Tolar feels the pandemic itself is a man-made catastrophe.

“When people say this is unprecedented, it’s erroneous. This is not unprecedented. This is the third coronavirus epidemic that we have had in this century alone,” he said. “That’s why, you know, I say that this is really man-made in a way because it was enabled by the fact that we have not learned enough from the previous ones, and we have really not built, what I think is important to build this time around, a vaccine program.”

Along with a cure must come testing to detect antibodies. The state set a goal of 5,000 tests a day by early May. It’s climbing closer to that number, but still hasn’t reached it.

“I view this as a very positive trajectory. We should never look at our position as a one point in time. This is a trajectory. This is exactly what you want to have because you don’t want people to cut corners,” he said.

Building up the supply without diminishing the quality of the test is important is what his team is focused on first.

“This is a production-line kind of problem, and that’s where we are now. We have three to four weeks to build to that layer, and at that time we should be over 10,000 tests of either to be available to the Minnesota public,” he said.

While testing is important, it’s only one of several tools researchers are leaning to tame the pandemic. Dr. Tolar pointed out the clinical trials happening at the U of M to find a treatment or cure. A team of engineers and medical professionals at the university also developed an inexpensive ventilator that was recently was approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration for production.

“This is not a linear problem. This is a complexity problem. It has multidimensional, you know, impact on people and it has to have a multidimensional answer to it,” he said.

But with each breakthrough comes another curveball from the virus. Dr. Tolar said they’re still trying to figure out how long antibodies remain in the human body once someone contracts the virus. It’s also changing.

“Because we have been able to sequence, DNA sequence, nucleic acid sequence, RNA sequence the virus, we know that there are certain mutations in it that may lead to be more virulent, more easily transmissible,” he said.

Those challenges only seem to motivate Dr. Tolar and his team to work harder on a mission he says has only just begun.

“I’m grateful for the leadership of the governor and the commissioners in this, that they are very proactive and they make it possible for Minnesota to be seen as a center for information and action,” he said.

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Jeff Wagner

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