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Gov. Walz announces free COVID-19 saliva tests for teachers, school staff, child care providers

Gov. Tim Walz speaks during a news conference at the Department of Public Safety in St. Paul, Minn. on Saturday, May 23, 2020. Photo: Evan Frost /Minnesota Public Radio via AP. Gov. Tim Walz speaks during a news conference at the Department of Public Safety in St. Paul, Minn. on Saturday, May 23, 2020.

Tommy Wiita
Updated: September 02, 2020 05:22 PM
Created: September 02, 2020 05:08 PM

On Wednesday, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz announced that teachers, school staff and child care providers across the state have received access to their free COVID-19 saliva tests, totaling more than 250,000 tests.

A release from the governor's office states the saliva tests are part of the Safe Learning Plan for the 2020-21 School Year and consistent with Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan's commitment to providing access to COVID-19 testing for Minnesotans working in child care and pre-kindergarten to grade 12 schools.

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"As a classroom teacher for more than 20 years and a parent of a child in public schools, I know that a safe classroom is the foundation for learning," said Walz in the release. "Those educating and caring for Minnesota's next generation deserve the peace of mind that these COVID-19 tests will provide."

The Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) has emailed thousands of unique codes that can be used to request a saliva test, which schools will distribute to all staff currently employed by the state's school districts, charter schools, tribal schools and nonpublic schools. Additionally, the Department of Health (MDH) has provided codes to all staff currently working in licensed child care settings and certified centers.

"All families in our state, including our littlest Minnesotans, want to know their teachers, school nutrition workers, and child care staff are supported. This means if they are exposed to COVID-19 as a frontline worker, we work to make sure they have access to testing," said Flanagan. "Our goal is to create safe in-person learning for as many children as possible, and saliva tests are one piece of the puzzle to support that plan."

Walz announces plan for COVID-19 saliva testing lab in Minnesota, could process another 30,000 tests per day

The tests are provided through a partnership with Vault Health and Infinity Biologix (formerly RUCDR Infinite Biologics, a unit of Rutgers University Human Genetics Institute of New Jersey), the nation's leading providers of saliva testing, according to the governor's office. The governor recently announced that the state would be partnering further with the company, to make saliva testing available to all Minnesotans.

The providing of testing is estimated to cost the state $6 million. Insurers will first be billed for medically necessary tests and uninsured individuals will be covered via federal Health Resources and Services Administration funding. The state will act as a payer of last resort, backstopping the cost of tests not covered by other payers so that education and child care professionals will not be responsible for payment.

"A central part of our state's COVID strategy is testing," said MDH Commissioner Jan Malcolm. "Adding saliva testing to our testing ecosystem both grows and diversifies our testing capacity. Teachers, school staff, child care center employees have a responsibility to get tested if they believe they've been in contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19 or are feeling symptoms themselves. We hope this test will provide a convenient, reliable, and quick option for them."

Teachers and staff are not required to take the tests before coming back to the classroom or to continue working in a child care setting. State officials urge them to get tested when they need it, such as when they're feeling symptomatic or when they believe they may have been exposed to someone who is COVID positive. The tests must be used by the end of 2020, though the state is exploring options to extend access for the remainder of the 2020-21 school year.

"Child care has remained open throughout this public health crisis ensuring that children have the nurturing and safe care they need while families need to be working," said Minnesota Department of Human Services Commissioner Jodi Harpstead. "They are heroes during these unprecedented times putting in the extra time to implement the public health guidance. We must ensure that each provider has access to a test whenever it is needed."

Read more about the saliva lab and making saliva testing available to all Minnesotans here.


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