Walz, health officials say Minnesota has built capacity for 20,000 COVID-19 tests per day

Gov. Tim Walz announces a COVID-19 testing milestone for Minnesota on Monday, June 29, 2020. Photo: KSTP. Gov. Tim Walz announces a COVID-19 testing milestone for Minnesota on Monday, June 29, 2020.

Josh Skluzacek
Updated: June 29, 2020 06:38 PM
Created: June 29, 2020 02:23 PM

Gov. Tim Walz and health officials on Monday announced that Minnesota has built the capacity to test 20,000 people per day for COVID-19.

The goal was announced by Walz in April and achieved through a partnership between the state, the University of Minnesota and Mayo Clinic. Walz had originally said he'd hoped to reach the goal by early June.

Additionally, the state was expected to surpass 600,000 total molecular tests since the start of the pandemic on Monday.

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Walz touted the partnership between the state, the U of M and Mayo as the primary reason for the growing testing capacity and said it allowed the state to also focus on other things related to the pandemic, such as contact tracing.

"We know when Minnesota comes together as one, we can achieve near-impossible tasks," Walz said. "I am proud of the Minnesota Department of Health's partnership with Mayo Clinic, the University of Minnesota, and our state's health systems to expand our testing capacity, allow us to more accurately track the course of the infection, and keep all Minnesotans safe."

With the news, Walz and Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm urged Minnesotans to get tested for COVID-19.

"This testing capacity we've built up frankly doesn't do us any good unless people seek tests and get tested," Malcolm said, urging people to get tested, even if they're not symptomatic.

Walz and Malcolm were joined by William Morice, M.D., Ph.D., chair of Mayo Clinic's Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology and president of Mayo Clinic Laboratories, and Tim Schacker, vice dean for research at the University's Medical School.

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"It was clear early in February that our lab capacity had the potential to serve the needs of Minnesota in what became the COVID pandemic," said Schacker. "I'm grateful to my faculty colleagues who quickly shifted their focus to develop the diagnostic tests so critical to managing our way through this health crisis."

"I'm very proud of the Mayo Clinic team who worked tirelessly to apply our global reference laboratory capabilities to ensure every Minnesotan can get COVID-19 testing when and where they need it. To date, Mayo Clinic has provided over 280,000 COVID-19 diagnostic tests to Minnesotans," Morice added. "We have been able to lean into those systems to prioritize the needs of Minnesota and connect the different health systems across the state. We are all in this together."

Despite reaching a milestone, Walz and Malcolm cautioned that Minnesota isn't out of the woods yet.

According to Walz, the state's COVID-19 test positivity rate, which adjusts for the number of tests being administered, is at about 4.18%, although that fluctuates. In the past seven days, that rate is at 4.4%, Malcolm said.

"Sadly, we are all part of this transmission chain and all need to act accordingly," said Malcolm.

Going forward, Malcolm and Walz said they expect the state's numbers to continue to fluctuate and said it's important to remember that it takes two to three weeks from when someone might get infected until it may start showing up in positive tests, hospitalizations and possibly deaths.

You can find more information on how to get a COVID-19 test here.

Some other highlights of Monday's daily briefing include:

— Malcolm said they've talked with the hospitality industry to make sure proprietors know the rules for reopening, and added that they know businesses are interested in not just opening but staying open. However, businesses that aren't following the rules are putting people at risk and it's something MDH is taking very seriously.

 — She added that they've tried to take an educational approach with businesses and residents but said they're taking COVID-19 very seriously. She noted they've talked about non-compliance with proprietors and said some of the consequences could include having licenses revoked. Local law enforcement is typically who is called for daily complaints.

— While some businesses aren't following the guidance from the state, Walz noted that there are also businesses that are working hard to be compliant and are doing their best. "Some of these bar owners are trying really, really hard, and it's just not working. We've got to find a way to make it work," Walz said.

— Walz said they need to get students back into classrooms because they know most students don't learn as well out of the classroom as they do in it. However, state officials are still evaluating whether students will be allowed back into classrooms in the fall, if masks may be required, etc. He agreed that they'll have to make a decision very soon so all involved can prepare accordingly. The Minnesota Department of Education has previously said it will announce a decision for the upcoming school year no later than the week of July 27.

— Walz added that he's considering a statewide mandate requiring people to wear masks but still prefers to not have to do that and have people just do what is right.

— As for another possible special session, Walz said he talked to legislative leaders from both parties but said it sounds like his emergency powers still being active appears to continue to be an issue for some lawmakers. He said he's continuing to educate them about what the emergency powers do but they'll continue to talk about issues and will likely need to make a decision by the end of the week because around July 10 would be the goal for the start of another special session. Police reform legislation and a bonding bill are still the main focus.

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