Minnesota is not reaching daily COVID-19 testing capacity; those with symptoms urged to get tested

State health officials want anyone with symptoms to go in for a test.
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It was April 22 that Gov. Tim Walz held a media briefing to announced a "moonshot" plan to ramp up Minnesota's COVID-19 testing capacity to 20,000 per day. At the time, health officials estimated that it would take 2-4 weeks to get to 20,000 molecular tests each day. 

Four weeks later – precisely 28 days on Tuesday, May 19 – the most diagnostic tests conducted in a single 24-hour period was 8,612 between 4 p.m. May 14 and 4 p.m. May 15. 

Gov. Walz previously said the state needs to be doing 5,000 tests per day in order safely reopen the economy, and reaching at least 5,000 per day has become relatively consistent in the week leading up to the governor's Stay Safe MN executive order, which has allowed more customer-facing retail businesses to open at 50 percent capacity. 

Tests reported per day: 

  • May 5: 4,957
  • May 6: 4,189
  • May 7: 3,849
  • May 8: 4,993
  • May 9: 4,825
  • May 10: 4,693
  • May 11: 5,053
  • May 12: 3,517
  • May 13: 6,717
  • May 14: 5,917
  • May 15: 8,612
  • May 16: 7,324
  • May 17: 6,001
  • May 18: 5,229

Four weeks ago, the state's testing capacity was around 8,000. Today, that testing capacity – when all of the testing supplies and reagents are available – is 13,704, according to Terri Dresen, spokesperson of the state's Testing Command Center. 

It begs the question: Why only 5,000 to 9,000 tests per day over the past week?

"People are choosing not to go in to get tested," Dresen said, then echoing the words of other state health officials who are urging anyone with symptoms to get tested: "If you are remotely symptomatic, please go in. This is why we built the capacity." 

The Department of Health has launched a website showing 216 healthcare facilities in Minnesota that offer COVID-19 tests, with the expectation that anyone with symptoms should be provided a test. 

Common symptoms from COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, are:

  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Muscle pain
  • Sore throat
  • New loss of taste or smell

Original estimates suggested 20,000 was possible by now

The goal remains reaching a capacity of 20,000 tests per day by June. To be clear: 20,000 is the goal – a "moonshot" goal at that – and not a guarantee. Regardless, it has proved to take longer than originally estimated to hit the goal. 

Dr. Jakup Tolar of the University of Minnesota Medical School was part of the April 22 presentation and said "this should take literally, 2-3 weeks, maybe less."

HealthPartners CEO Andrea Walsh, also speaking at the conference, put the timeline a little longer at 3-4 weeks, during which the state and its partners said the aim was to build up the logistics required to make getting a test accessible in every corner of the state.

"Speed is an essential ingredient in success. The faster we're going to do this, the better we're going to do," Dr. Tolar added.

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Last Friday, Mayo Clinic told Bring Me The News that it has continued to expand capacity dedicated to the state testing initiative. "We can now perform 4,000 molecular COVID-19 tests per day in support of the state’s response," a Mayo spokesperson said. 

Other providers around the state (Allina, HealthPartners, etc.) maximize their internal testing capacity and then send overflow samples to the Mayo Clinic and University of Minnesota to complete the testing process. 

Walz said April 22 that if the testing plan was carried out properly and Minnesotans continued to follow social distancing guidelines, Minnesota could find itself headed down a path "that can lower the number of infections, ensure the hospital capacity is there for those that are most vulnerable and give us that path back to start opening more of our society." 

As of today (May 19), the state has a maximum ICU capacity of 2,533 patients. Currently, 1,011 of the 2,533 ICU beds are taken, 229 of them by COVID-19 patients. You can track the state's ICU capacity through the COVID-19 Dashboard, which is updated daily Monday-Friday.  

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