Coronavirus: Minnesota leaders frustrated by lack of testing supplies from federal government

Minnesota is still dealing with a shortage of testing kits and PPE.
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Jan Malcolm, Minnesota Department of Health

Minnesota officials leading the response to the COVID-19 outbreak expressed their frustration on Wednesday with the lack of assistance from the federal government.

Gov. Tim Walz and Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm both explained the challenge their administration has faced sourcing the testing kits, personal protective equipment, and general medical supplies required to provide a robust response to the coronavirus outbreak.

The Trump Administration has been facing questions this week over why the U.S. was slow to roll out testing kits that identify the virus, and why 

And while Gov. Walz has not criticized the president by name during the crisis, he addressed comments made by Trump this week in which he touted the number of tests the country has now carried out, and suggested that the lack of kits is no longer a problem.

Walz said Wednesday: "I was on a call with all the governors of the 50 states and the five territories and  and I will say though one of the the frustrations that came up is the testing issue, and I think the frustration came up for me is that I heard yesterday in the briefing that there's massive testing and that the states just don't know how to use it.

"And I'm here to tell you not a single governor agreed with that. And not a single governor is not fretting over trying to get these testing regimens up because of understanding how critical it's going to be as we come through this first wave."

In a pair of tweets on Thursday, President Trump claims the government has been providing "massive amounts of medical supplies ... directly to states and hospitals," but said some states have "insatiable appetites & are never satisfied," suggesting this was political.

He then went on to say that the federal government is "a backup for them" and states "should have been stocked up and ready long before this crisis hit."

Minnesota has now conducted 21,191 coronavirus tests, but these are increasingly being carried out by private hospitals and labs that have developed their own tests, as supplies for public health departments have dwindled.

Malcolm said that as of Wednesday, Minnesota only had a supplies of the reagent required for the COVID-19 diagnosis test for 600 more tests.

And it's not just testing that's the issue, with states in recent weeks having been forced into competition with each other for personal protective equipment, while there are now reports that a national stockpile of PPE for healthcare workers is nearly depleted.

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Supplies not materializing despite requests to HHS

Walz said that a lack of a "real cohesive national strategy" early in the COVID-19 outbreak has disrupted the supply chain.

The governor enacted a "Stay at Home" order last Friday to give Minnesota more time to boost its hospital and clinic supplies, and he'll now face a decision next week on whether to extend it with some of those supplies not forthcoming.

"We have multiple platforms for running tests ... but supplies for our highest capacity testing platform are backordered until May 1st. So that's just an example of the supply chain issues that the governor mentioned.

"We have had multiple phone calls with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services at the highest levels, based on the governor's personal request to vice president Pence," she continued. "We sent specific supply requests and have not heard back.

"Congressman Emmers office made the same request on our behalf and was told the supplies around their way, however a follow up from his office to Health and Human Services was not answered to the best of our knowledge.

"So none of the requested laboratory supplies that we have talked to HHS (the federal Department of Health and Human Services) about have materialized in Minnesota at this point."

Malcolm notes that the private labs now conducting tests, including the Mayo Clinic, are now working directly with manufacturers to get supplies for testing that use different reagents to the kind needed by the MDH Public Health Lab.

However, Malcolm says she's been told by healthcare providers that "many of their supplies are also on back order," and that testing supplies are just one part of the problem.

"Even if we had plenty of testing supplies in the laboratories, the healthcare provider system still needs swabs to take to take samples from patient, and those are in very short supply as well as personal protective equipment."

Malcolm said there is hope on the horizon with the federal government saying that new testing strategies are being developed, albeit are not yet available on the market.

There is also help on the way from the likes of the Mayo Clinic, which is expected to shortly release an antibody test that can determine if someone has already had COVID-19.

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