Minnesota to restrict COVID-19 testing to specific patients amid kit shortage

Minnesota health leaders have been asking the federal government for more testing capacity.
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The Minnesota Department of Health will be limiting COVID-19 tests to patients in certain circumstances due to a national shortage of testing kits.

The MDH announced Monday that it's being forced to make adjustments to the testing criteria "to focus on the highest priority specimens," amid a dearth in available testing kits nationwide.

"We need to be focusing on testing those individuals for whom the positive test will make a significant difference either in their care for our healthcare system," MDH director of infectious diseases Kris Ehresmann said Tuesday.

Tests for COVID-19 will be restricted to: 

  • Hospitalized patients
  • Healthcare workers
  • Those in "congregate living settings" such as long-term care.

"It would be lovely if we could know everyone that has COVID-19," Ehresmann added. "In reality, for individuals in an outpatient setting, a positive diagnostic test does not make a difference either in their care or their recommended treatment."

This comes just days after Gov. Tim Walz had made a plea to Vice President Mike Pence for more testing kits and lab supplies, saying that the state has been forced to ration what equipment it has.

Minnesota saw its confirmed COVID-19 cases rise to 60 on Tuesday, the smallest increase seen since last Wednesday.

Ehresmann said on Monday that the total number of coronavirus patients in the state is likely higher given that there is not the capacity to test anyone with "mild" symptoms that can be managed at home. These patients are instead just being told to isolate to limit the spread to others.

The message about testing restrictions has been sent out to healthcare providers across the state.

Providers have been told all patients with an undiagnosed fever or acute respiratory symptoms (cough, shortness of breath) should self-quarantine for 7 days after the onset of illness, or until 72 hours after the respiratory symptoms have gone, or the fever is resolved without the use of fever-reducing medications.

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"Patients with symptoms who are not able to be tested should isolate themselves from household and intimate contacts as much as possible," MDH adds. 

"Household and intimate contacts of these individuals should limit their activities in public for 14 days after the incorporating precautions in the home, and monitor for symptoms."

Ehresmann has said that the department's "aspirational goal" is to give everyone the chance for testing, but that it's not yet possible.

"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."

"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."

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