Updated: September 22, 2020 10:48 PM
Created: September 22, 2020 10:41 PM
A first of its kind testing site is opening in Duluth on Wednesday. Minnesotans will be able to get free saliva COVID-19 tests at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center five days a week.
It will be open Wednesday through Friday from noon until 7 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. The Minnesota Department of Health is encouraging people to sign up for a slot online.
Those who have insurance will be asked to provide that information but will not be billed for the test, according to MDH.
“Community testing like this, that offers no barrier testing for all Minnesotans, is really important,” said Anne O'Connor, who is overseeing the state's COVID-19 testing response. “To make sure that if you believe you've come into contact with someone who has COVID, or you don’t feel well, that you have tools to be able to make smart decisions for yourself.”
The testing stations inside DECC are spaced out. Each person who signs up for a test will be given a vial to spit into. The sample is then sent to a Vault Health lab in New Jersey to be analyzed for signs of COVID-19.
“You can come through here in probably 10 minutes or less for your COVID test,” said O’Connor.
She said results should be available within 48 hours of taking the test.
“For some people, this is just an easier and more accessible way to be tested than a typical nasal swab, both are really important,” said O’Connor.
MDH has been offering saliva tests to teachers, school staff and child care providers but this is the first time it will be widely available to the public.
MDH plans to open a total of 10 saliva testing sites statewide over the next month, including five in the metro area and five in greater Minnesota.
The state agency is working with Vault Health to establish the clinics. According to MDH, the saliva test is as accurate as the nasal swab.
“This test is highly accurate from a science perspective,” said Jason Feldman, Vault Health CEO. “It’s a genetic test so when we put your saliva into the test, it's looking for the virus - three genes of the virus - and if we find anything in your saliva, we know you are likely infected and sick.”
There is the possibility the results could come back inconclusive.
“About one percent of the time a test can come back as inconclusive, we like to call that presupposed positive,” he said. “We like to treat that as a positive, why? Because someone who is inconclusive is likely about to get sick or might have actually been sick and is just getting over it.”
In those cases, he recommends taking another test in 24 hours.
The company's saliva test was developed by RUCDR Infinite Biologics at Rutgers University, which received an FDA emergency use authorization in April
“The fame of the saliva test began in the spring when sports teams wanted to come back to the field or to the court to play,” said Feldman.
He told us they are now working with 23 states.
“Minnesota is the only state in which we've actually built an expansion lab for COVID testing in the state,” he said.
According to Feldman, the Oakdale lab will be ready to start receiving Minnesota samples in October. When it’s fully operational, the lab will be able to process about 30,000 samples per day.
It’s expected to create up to 250 jobs.
“We do have the ability to add additional instrumentation so if a neighboring state wanted to come in and invest as Minnesota has, in additional machines to be able to do more testing for their population, we've allowed for that possibility,” said Feldman. “We are working with other states in the neighborhood."
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