Google screening website? Drive-thru COVID-19 clinics? MN health officials haven't been given details

The MDH indicated that drive-thru testing clinics are the least of its concerns right now.
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The drive-thru COVID-19 testing clinics that President Trump's administration said could be operational as soon as Sunday night in the United States is not, and it's unclear if such access to testing will be available any time soon in Minnesota. 

Asked Saturday if she's received any information about the clinics, Minnesota Department of Health Infectious Disease Director Kris Ehresmann said she had not. 

"We have not gotten information about that at this point. I think our aspirational goal as we've said before is that everyone would have the opportunity for testing," she said. "However, it's not just a question of having facilities to do the tests and setting up that infrastructure. It's also the challenge of having laboratory capacity. That continues to be an issue."

Through Saturday, 1,422 patients have been tested for COVID-19 by the MDH, with an unknown number having been tested using a test developed independently by the Mayo Clinic. 

"There is a global demand for these reagents," said Ehresmann, referring to the substance used in testing to detect the virus. "It's not just the U.S., Europe and all over the world need the same reagents to be able to do the testing. That is what the challenge is."

So while the government is hailing the development of a Google-created website that would allow concerned Americans easy access to online coronavirus screening that would then provide direction to the nearest drive-thru testing clinic, the real problem appears to be the fact that laboratories already providing the infrastructure needed to test cannot do so at the frequency Ehresmann would prefer. 

"We've heard about these things but we have not gotten any specific information and we continue to know that the laboratory capacity is the challenge," she said. 

In short, here's how Dr. Deborah Birx, the coronavirus response coordinator in the White House, explained how online screening and drive-thru clinics would work: 

  • Google is building a screening website.
  • Anyone can create an account on the site.
  • Fill out a questionnaire about your symptoms.
  • Then be instructed where the nearest "drive thru" testing clinic is located.
  • Get tested without getting out of your vehicle.
  • Test results available on the website within 24 hours.

Trump said many of the drive thru test sites will be located in Walmart parking lots, in addition to parking lots of other businesses across the country.

Google issued a statement Saturday updating the public on the status of the website, saying "work is being done by our sister company Verily to launch a pilot website that will enable individuals to do a risk assessment and be scheduled for testing at sites in the Bay Area."

On Friday, Google Communications said the pilot website was in the "early stages of development" and that the plan was to "roll testing out in the Bay area, with the hope of expanding more broadly over time." 

Drive-up testing facilities available in Minnesota

In Minnesota, drive-through testing capabilities already exist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester and at four M Health Fairview clinics in the Twin Cities.

At the Mayo Clinic, patients must first go through a phone screening and if approved for a test, they are directed to a drive-through location. A similar online or phone screening and doctor approval is needed before being directed to a drive-through test site at M Health Fairview hospitals. 

You can also check if your need a test using M Health Fairview's OnCare portal, or by calling 1-855-324-7843. 

The Mankato Clinic is also offering drive-up testing, which you can book a slot for by calling its hotline at 507-387-8548 to go through the screening process.

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