Coronavirus Daily Briefing: State leaders weigh testing options in Minnesota

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Wednesday, state leaders discussed testing options in Minnesota and how the state is doing in comparison with the rest of the country.

Gov. Tim Walz started the conference call Wednesday by mentioning the signing of the Alec Smith Insulin Affordability Act—named after Minnesotan Alec Smith who died because he couldn’t afford his insulin and rationed it—into law.

Gov. Walz signs insulin affordability bill into law

Walz said no Minnesotan should have to choose among food, rent and a drug they need to survive. The legislation will allow access to a 30-day supply of insulin for a co-pay of $35, and uninsured, under-insured and those receiving Medicare will be eligible. The legislation is also expected to streamline affordable insulin in the long-term and either get manufacturers to participate in the program or fine them for non-compliance.

Walz also reminded Minnesotans that the MNsure special enrollment period is open, and the deadline for that is April 21.

Meanwhile, Walz also reminded Minnesotans that the deadline to file taxes, typically April 15, has been extended to July 15.

Testing in Minnesota

State leaders on the call Wednesday primarily discussed the conversation surrounding serological testing.

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, a serological test, which is typically done as a blood test, "detects the body’s immune response to the infection caused by the virus rather than detecting the virus itself."

Mayo Clinic has included a Q&A resource on its website about serological testing versus diagnostic testing.

Walz said the hope is that serology testing could be much larger than diagnostic testing, adding that Mayo Clinic is ramping up tests into the tens of thousands.

Kristen Ehresmann, director of Infectious Diseases with MDH, added that some health officials think the bottlenecks that researchers have experienced in terms of molecular testing would not be as bad with serological testing, due to greater capacity with the latter.

However, health care officials are also cautious over serological tests because they’re not all created equally, which could create a range in results. Additionally, researchers are still working to understand immunity to the virus.

In terms of testing options at food processing plants in Minnesota, Walz said it’s a priority and that he can envision testing entire food processing facilities.

Walz added the state needs a strategic plan to get people back to the work force safely and that he wants to see significant results in the next week.

Minnesotans at long-term care facilities

Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) Commissioner Jan Malcolm said state health leaders are working with care providers to implement strong infection control measures and said those leaders are seeing early indications that infection control measures are having a positive effect on long-term care.

In response to a question about moving residents from long-term care facilities, Malcolm said the concern is understandable but that health officials say they think staff at those care facilities are working hard to provide a safe environment.

"In many respects, they are the safest environment," Malcolm said, adding there could be a health risk in moving back and forth from different settings.

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Unemployment outlook in Minnesota

Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) Commissioner Steve Grove said the 13-week unemployment insurance extension through the CARES Act has been fully implemented in Minnesota. Grove said those who have applied for unemployment benefits can log into their accounts and indicate to the system that they are still unemployed to get that extension.

Grove said unemployment insurance for the self-employed is not yet ready; it is expected to be available by the end of April.

Overall, Grove said about 464,513 total unemployment insurance applications have been filed since March 16 in the state.

Minnesota in comparison with the rest of the country

"What we’re doing is working," Walz said, noting the effects of social distancing in Minnesota and low infection rates in comparison with the rest of the country.

Walz also added Minnesota is well-positioned to lead and that the state could be able to show residents of other states how to begin reinstating certain aspects of everyday life.

Wednesday, MDH reported 114 new cases of COVID-19, bringing the state’s total to 1,809. Additionally, MDH reported that, so far, 87 Minnesotans have died from the virus.

MDH: 1,809 total COVID-19 cases, 87 deaths

Meanwhile, Malcolm said there are roughly 609,000 active cases in the United States, with about 26,000 deaths reported.

‘Severe Weather Awareness Week’ in the midst of COVID-19

Homeland Security and Emergency Management Director Joe Kelly reminded Minnesotans this week is "Severe Weather Awareness Week" and reiterated the importance of paying attention to road closures given Minnesota is prone to flooding. Kelly recommended Minnesotans consider buying flood insurance through the National Flood Insurance Program.

KSTP’s complete COVID-19 coverage