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As demand for COVID-19 testing surges in Minnesota, Gov. Tim Walz said the state will expand testing capacity by opening three new community sites and sending at-home test kits to schools. 

COVID-19 testing has been largely inaccessible for many people in the Twin Cities this week as demand for a test surged after the year-end holiday period and as students return to classrooms. 

Related: COVID test appointments hard to come by in the Twin Cities as demand surges

To help with this, the state on Tuesday said it will open three new community testing sites, where Minnesotans can get tested for free. The new sites will be in Anoka, Cottage Grove and North Branch, a news release said. 

The North Branch location, at the former Nike Outlet store at 38500 Tanger Drive, will open on Jan. 10. It will be open for testing Monday-Friday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., with both PCR and rapid antigen testing available. 

Appointments for a test are strongly encouraged, but walk-in tests are available at the North Branch site. 

Details on the locations, hours and how to schedule appointments at the Anoka and Cottage Grove sites will be "released in the days ahead," the news release said. 

The governor also announced the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) secured an additional 1.8 million rapid tests for Minnesota schools, and the state has partnered with community organizations to make 150,000 testing kits available to communities disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. 

“Testing is a vital tool for helping lower the risk of COVID-19 for Minnesotans, their families and their communities, so it’s very important to make it as easy as possible for everyone to access,” MDH Commissioner Jan Malcolm said. “Test results only represent one moment in time, so it’s important for people to use the other layers of prevention, including vaccination and boosters, masking, and staying home when sick in order to prevent spread.”

This comes as the state's testing capacity has been pushed to its limits in recent days. Vault, which provides free at-home saliva tests for Minnesotans, had to cap the number of tests it will send out due to this high demand. The community testing site at MSP Airport moved to appointment only after crowds descended on the testing center. And many Twin Cities community testing sites were booked not just Tuesday, but through the end of this week and beyond. 

You can find a list of the state's free community testing sites here. You can also order a free at-home test here or find other testing locations here

Tuesday's COVID-19 update from MDH includes 16,204 newly reported cases and 36 newly reported deaths. It also shows an increase in hospitalizations.

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