MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – On Thursday, the Minnesota Department of Health announced it would open 11 new COVID-19 testing sites across Minnesota.

So, WCCO spoke with Assistant Health Commissioner Dan Huff with questions about testing. Here’s what you need to know:

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Who should get tested for COVID-19?

“If you have symptoms, you should get tested,” said Huff. “If you are a close contact of someone that is infected, get tested.”

MDH is also recommending all Minnesotans between the ages of 18 to 35 get tested, especially if they are visiting friends and family over Thanksgiving. Even those people haven’t had a known close contact or aren’t showing symptoms, MDH is recommending a test.

“It’s an important part of protecting everyone in the state,” Huff said. “You’re social, you’re visiting with people and you’re likely to be asymptomatic.”

Huff said MDH has the capacity to test that amount of people over the next few weeks.

Where should you get the test? 

Huff first recommends calling your healthcare provider to see if they are offering a test. Most are through their office, clinics or hospitals.  Insurers are required to cover the cost of “medically appropriate” testing, though there may still be charge associated with a related visit. Turnaround times vary by provider, but are generally between 24 to 72 hours.

Some private labs are offering quick COVID tests, but those limited appointments fill up quickly.

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According to the Urgency Room, whose locations offer Abbot’s ID NOW molecular test, “Our scheduling system opens at midnight daily and all appointments are typically filled within minutes if not seconds.”

If a provider or private lab can’t offer a test, the State of Minnesota has several free testing sites spread out across the state. The state offers only saliva or nasal swab PCR tests, but is studying whether to offer rapid antigen tests in the future.

On Thursday, MDH also announced it’s expanding its pilot at-home testing program across the state.  Now, any Minnesotan can administer the test to themselves at home at no-cost.

How accurate are the PCR tests offered by the state and most providers?

“We consider them about 98% accurate,” said Huff.

He adds that the nasal and saliva PCR tests have the same level of accuracy because the tests are conducted with the same technology. 

What should you do if someone in your home tests positive?

Huff says any close contacts should quarantine at home and then get tested. He suggested waiting five days since first exposure to give the virus time to build up and be detected. Until then, separate from the infected patient and wear a mask inside the home.

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“Everyone has the power to stop the spread of this disease,” said Huff. “It’s about wearing  a mask, social distancing, limiting our social interactions and getting tested.”

Heather Brown