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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — For months, we heard there weren’t enough COVID-19 tests to go around. Now, health officials think people aren’t getting the new message: those with symptoms can — and should — get tested. So, what’s the status of testing in Minnesota? Good Question.
Two weeks ago, Jenny Vonzel-Rogers had shortness of breath and a cough. She chalked it up to asthma, but her doctor told her to go get a COVID-19 test.
After three days of waiting for results from her North Memorial Health clinic, her results came back negative. She had been quarantining in her bedroom.
“Thank God, because we have our granddaughter living with us,” Vonzel-Rogers said. “I would rather know it than not knowing it.”
She is one of almost 116,000 Minnesotans who have been tested for COVID-19. Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said in Friday’s daily briefing that’s fewer than what state officials had hoped by now.
“We definitely need to get that message out that more testing is available,” Malcolm said.
For months, the message was there weren’t enough tests. Now, health officials like HealthPartners infectious disease specialist Dr. Greg Siwek are asking anyone with symptoms to get tested.
“We’re in much better shape with our swabs and our re-agents, our system is really ready to go,” Siwek said.
HealthPartners has eight drive-up testing clinics across the state. The have the capability to conduct 2,000 tests per day, but have been testing about 1,000 per day for the past week.
WCCO contacted all the hospital systems in the metro area. Almost all said they were able to test more people than were coming in for tests.
“If you have symptoms, we really want you to get tested,” Siwek said.
The symptoms include cough, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, fever, chills, muscle pain, sore throat and new loss of taste and/or smell.
At HealthPartners, the next goal it to increase asymptomatic testing. Right now, the only asymptomatic people tested in their system are patients scheduled for surgery. They’re ramping up testing for asymptomatic patients from congregate settings, like nursing homes and jails, who are admitted to the hospital.
MDH has also been testing some asymptomatic people in those settings where there have been outbreaks. But experts like Dr. Bobbi Pritt of the Mayo Clinic say Minnesota wouldn’t have the capacity to test all asymptomatic people who want a test.
“The criteria is that you’d want to test people where you can do something,” Pritt said.
She says testing only gives results at a point in time. If a person doesn’t have the infection at that moment, but then gets stick the next day, the test won’t pick it up.
“That’s versus if someone has an illness that you’re testing for, you can say this particular illness is covered by this test,” Siwek said.
He also said the test tends to be positive in the early stages, so he recommends getting a test as soon as there are symptoms.
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