Health leaders address high demand for COVID-19 tests, plans for more sites

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Waiting in line— now part of our COVID-19 testing landscape.

“Very frustrating, very frustrating,” declared Nicole Harris of St. Paul.

“It’s really difficult, honestly,” adds her friend Elise Rodish. “We walked in and we’ve been trying to find tests all over the place, when all the appointments are really full.”

For some, it’s an hour to an hour-and-a-half wait, much like at other sites across the Twin Cities in the last few days.

"It’s a little frustrating for a country of our wealth and magnitude that we have to be where we are,” notes Bill Scott, of New Hope.

At the state-run testing site at the Minneapolis Convention Center, hundreds of people waited.

But Joe Gilbertson, of Burnsville, said he didn’t mind.

"It’s a long line for sure,” he said. “I think it was pretty painless, I just walked in line and got it done. Took me about an hour and I’m on my way.”

Scott says he was able to set up an appointment online— and in the process, got on the front of the line at the convention center— for a very important reason.

"There was a whole listing of different locations. We took the first available one that was reasonably close,” he says. "I don’t have any symptoms, but I’m taking care of our granddaughter from time to time, and she’s only five months old. Everyone else in our family is vaccinated, and she’s the only one that hasn’t."

The latest numbers from the Minnesota Department of Health show a little more than 16.3-million tests have been given since the pandemic began.

“We know Minnesotans experience some wait times with this,” Governor Tim Walz told reporters. “I think it’s important to note that."

Walz acknowledged the frustration by some— but says that help is on the way.

He says Minnesota has secured an additional 1.8-million at-home rapid tests for schools, that can be given directly to families.

The governor also says 150,000 at-home tests will be available through a partnership with local public health departments, tribal health, and food banks.

He adds that new testing sites are coming.

"We’re opening up three new testing sites,” Walz says. “We open up in the coming days in Anoka and Cottage Grove. North Branch should be up sometime next week."

The Anoka and Cottage Grove sites will be at National Guard armories.

And— because of the increased demand, the health department is still requiring appointments for the free testing at Minneapolis- St. Paul International Airport.

Other community testing sites do accept walk-ins, although appointments are recommended.

Walz also says at some test sites, people have had to wait fifteen minutes to get results— sometimes congregating in an enclosed space.

He says now, staffers will start notifying people by text, so they wont have to stay in that immediate area while waiting.

Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm says the growing demand for tests— and the supply chain slowdown, means there will be challenges ahead.

"Things are going to get tight for the next few weeks,” she says. “(It’s) why the governor is asking for patience and for people not to give up, not to think ‘well, let me not bother to get tested.’ It’s critical for people to get tested and have that information.”

Scott says he’s glad he was able to get his test Tuesday— but he still worries about the future.

"I may be negative today, I could be positive tomorrow,” he says. “That’s the only problem with this."