MDH starts free COVID-19 testing to those who attended protests and community events

Over the past few weeks, there have been rallies and protests across the country for George Floyd. Thousands of people have marched through Minneapolis, protested in St. Paul, joined community cleanups and participated in food drives.

Each event has been a risk during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“There was transmission and exposure,” said Kou Thao, the Director of the Center for Health Equity for the Minnesota Dept. of Health. “So this is a chance for those in the local neighborhoods have access to testing.”

Health officials began offering free testing at four sites in Minneapolis and St. Paul on Tuesday, including walk up testing at Holy Trinity Church on East 31st St. and New Salem Baptist Church on Bryant Ave. North in Minneapolis.

The Oxford Community Center on Lexington Pkwy North in St. Paul and the Sabathani Community Center on East 38th St. in Minneapolis also offered drive up testing.

“If you’re symptomatic or asymptomatic, if you were out and you feel like you were exposed last week, you can get tested,” said Thao.

Health officials ask anyone seeking a test to sign up for a slot ahead of time. No insurance is needed.

Thao told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS that the testing is an effort to get ahead of a potential spike in cases.

“Get more data on that, more numbers and to try and do as much prevention as possible,” said Thao. “It helps us to reduce exposure. We also do follow up if you’re positive, with those you may have had contact with.”

We spoke to Beth Magistad, of St. Paul, right after she was tested.

“I’m really glad they’re doing this, giving access to people in the communities," she said.

Magistad said her 18 and 22-year-old sons attended the protests, in addition to graduation and other outings as restrictions relax.

"It’s hard to know what the risk you’re taking is because you can’t see, you have no idea if you’re taking a risk or not," she said. “There’s a lot of important stuff going on so you can’t just stay in your house all the time."

Also in line was Martha Higuera, who is an early childhood special education teacher. She told us she attended some of the protests in the last two weeks and tried to get a test at another clinic but never heard back.

On Monday, she signed up for a slot through MDH.

"They were able to offer me an appointment as early as 1 p.m. today," she said. "I thought I better go through it, not only because it’s a great opportunity but also so I can share with families about my experience and then help them also get tested."

Higuera told us she was initially hesitant to attend the gatherings, worried she would contribute to the spread, but felt compelled to join to calls for justice. She saw first-hand the precautions many were taking.

"In both demonstrations I visited, I was very impressed at how masks were being handed out to every demonstrator,“ she said. "I didn’t see anybody without a mask."

It will take about 72 hours for each person tested to get their results, according to MDH.

Testing slots are already filled on Wednesday. Health officials will be administering tests again on June 16, 17, 23 and 24.

“Our community has gone through so much in the last week or so and is suffering a lot of trauma, and it’s triggering historical trauma from communities, on top of the pandemic that we’re in,” said Thao. “So having the ability for this testing in local communities is really important.”