MDH COVID-19 briefing: Fall sports changes, 1st saliva testing site to open, mitigating risk of transmission

Monday afternoon, Minnesota health officials provided the latest update on the state’s COVID-19 situation.

Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm, MDH Assistant Commissioner Dan Huff and MDH Director of Infectious Disease and Epidemiology Kris Ehresmann talked about several topics, including the Minnesota State High School League’s decision to allow football and volleyball seasons in the fall and the state’s first saliva testing site and schools.

The state on Monday announced the first saliva testing site for COVID-19 will open Wednesday in Duluth. Huff said they know it’s critical to grow and diversify the state’s testing capacity and they hope saliva is the first step in doing that. He noted that saliva tests aren’t meant to replace the nasal swab tests but rather supplement them.

1st COVID-19 saliva testing site to open Wednesday in Duluth

MDH also talked about the MSHSL’s decision to bring football and volleyball seasons back to the fall.

Malcolm said there’s always a level of risk with sports, particularly those with closer contact. She noted that the pandemic will determine what course the seasons take but said it’ll be important for everyone involved to follow state guidance, and she added that MDH will continue to talk with schools about that. It’s also important to note that spectators for sporting events will be impacted by MDH’s guidance limiting gatherings this season, meaning fans will be very limited at events.

From a pure public health view, Malcolm said they’d prefer not to risk more transmission by playing sporting events. However, they know the activities are very important to students and their communities, and many of the activities are outside. She said she hopes people continue to follow the risk mitigation guidelines.

Malcolm also said they can’t forecast the level of risk down the road, meaning they don’t know for sure that playing in March would be any safer for activities, although they hope it will be.

MSHSL approves fall season for football, volleyball

MDH officials also talked about Sunday’s data, noting that a record number of new cases (1,318) were reported, which Ehresmann specified weren’t from the state’s backlog. Ehresmann said it’s definitely not a record they’re proud of, and urged people to listen to local health officials to limit the spread of COVID-19, adding that not doing so could lead to long-term effects for others in the community and for schools.

Minnesota’s seven-day average testing positivity rate was at 4.4% as of Monday, down from 4.8% last week, although Malcolm noted that several areas of the state are above 5%.

As for schools, Ehresmann said 351 schools have reported having at least one case of COVID-19, 81 have had two to four cases and seven have had five or more cases. She noted, however, that not all cases are transmitted at schools and many are likely transmitted outside and then brought in to school.

Ehresmann noted that discussions with schools about teaching methods don’t just involve MDH or the Minnesota Department of Education telling districts what to do but involve back-and-forth discussions about each specific situation and what the best course of action may be.

UPDATE: CDC states updated guidance on COVID-19 airborne spread ‘posted in error’

Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its guidance Friday to better acknowledge COVID-19’s airborne spread. Then, on Monday, the CDC reverted back to its earlier guidance and said Friday’s update was posted in error.

Malcolm said MDH will continue to look at guidance from the CDC but officials will also monitor all other guidance out there, too. Ehresmann added that new things are continuously being learned about COVID-19 and that’s challenging and frustrating for everybody, especially the public, but said MDH will work to balance all of the available data in developing its guidance.

Huff said he knows it’s a stressful time for everybody, but urged Minnesotans to remember that "every person involved in this response [to COVID-19] is doing so so we can protect the health and lives of as many Minnesotans as possible."

4 new COVID-19 deaths, 36 more hospitalizations, MDH reports

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