COVID testing sites opening soon, increased capacity coming to St. Paul

The opening dates for two new COVID-19 testing sites in the metro were announced by the state on Thursday.

Gov. Tim Walz’s office said the community testing site at 408 East Main St. in Anoka will open Friday while one at 8180 Belden Blvd in Cottage Grove will open next Thursday, Jan. 13.

Those two new sites are in addition to a new testing site at the former Nike Outlet Store in North Branch that will open on Monday.

The governor’s office also announced Thursday that the community testing site at Roy Wilkins Auditorium in St. Paul will get a 50% increase in testing capacity after the National Guard was instructed to help there. The site is now expected to handle up to 3,000 tests per day.

"Minnesotans deserve access to COVID-19 testing. As we confront the highly contagious Omicron variant, we’re working to make sure testing is as accessible as possible," Walz said in a statement. "Getting tested is a critical tool in our fight against COVID-19. To protect yourself and others, get vaccinated, get boosted, wear a mask — and if you feel sick, please get tested."

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During an event Thursday at the Anoka Armory, Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said the department received the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s new guidance on reducing isolation times. MDH is still going through it but will adopt the CDC’s guidance and release more information on that in the coming days, Malcolm said.

She also spoke to the criticism of the new guidance and its timing amid the omicron surge, calling it "a balancing act" and citing the impact on the workforce as the reason for the CDC’s move.

"I think many of us are experiencing it with our own employees and our own personal networks that there’s just a lot of COVID out there right now, and we’re already seeing the impact on some of the workforce issues that we’ve talked about," Malcolm said.

Amid the high demand for COVID-19 tests, Malcolm encouraged Minnesotans to make appointments, if possible, to help manage lines and waiting times. She also said the state received and distributed 1 million rapid tests last month and has ordered another 1.8 million tests that haven’t been completely fulfilled yet.

However, despite the high demand, Walz and Malcolm still urged Minnesotans to get tested if they feel the need to, as well as isolate if experiencing symptoms — even mild ones — and wear a mask, get vaccinated and boosted.

"The whole point of this is, from an individual basis, is for you to know if you’re positive or negative so you can isolate and stop the spread of it. On a more macroscale, it’s to know the extent of where we’re at and how does that impact hospital capacity, long-term care and things like that," Walz said.

After the Anoka testing site opens Friday, Minnesota National Guard Lt. Col. Brian Douty said about 200 soldiers will be working to assist with COVID-19 at nine facilities in the state. Malcolm noted there are other community testing sites, such as Roy Wilkins Auditorium and the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport site, in addition to the National Guard sites.

"The Guard sites are incredibly helpful because of the speed with which they can be mounted and scaled but in addition, we continue to work on those community sites as well," Malcolm said.

Walz also noted the great work of the National Guard in helping with the COVID-19 response but also noted it comes at a cost with what they could be and should be doing if not activated to assist. Walz added that part of his supplemental budget will include funding for the National Guard to address its recruiting, retention and missions.

More information on COVID-19 tests can be found online.