Testing results for mass gatherings show low number were positive for COVID-19

Twenty days ago, the Minnesota Department of Health started offering free COVID-19 tests to those who attended mass gatherings in the wake of George Floyd’s death on May 25. There were demonstrations for weeks, along with community clean ups and food drives.

MDH offered the COVID-19 testing at three sites in Minneapolis and one site in St. Paul, twice a week. The first four days of testing were on June 9, 10, 16, and 17.

According to MDH 7,706 tests were completed during that time with 120 positive results. The rate of positive tests was 1.56 percent.

At Holy Trinity Church, there were 14 positive tests out of 1,692 administered. At Sabathani Community Center 12 tests were positive, out of a total of 1,747. And at New Salem Baptist Church 15 out of 1,104 tests were positive.

There were 79 positive tests out of 3,163 administered at Oxford Community Center in St. Paul.

By Monday evening, the number of total tests completed at all four sites reached 15,193, with a positivity rate of 1.7 percent. A spokesperson said there are samples that have not been completed so the positivity rate is subject to change.

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“I hope the numbers are true but I’m suspicious because it seems awfully low,” said KSTP Medical Expert Dr. Archelle Georgiou. “With the exposure that all of those individuals had, I’m really surprised the numbers aren’t higher.”

She points to the state’s overall average positivity rate. According to MDH on Monday, the positivity rate for the last seven days was 4.4 percent.

“What we don’t know is of the thousands of people who chose to get tested because it was all voluntary, people self-selected,” said Dr. Georgiou. “Were they the individuals that went for an hour, or were they the ones that went for multiple days? Were they the individuals who wore masks or the ones who didn’t wear masks? Were they individuals who had risks for other reasons? That is going to make a difference in those results.”

She said she’s also concerned about the timing of the tests.

“If someone went to a protest two or three or four days prior to getting tested, they could have a negative test result but actually turn up to be positive,” she said. “I have heard so many examples of individuals that tested negatively several times before becoming positive. It’s really important to be diligent and not rely on that one test result and thinking that everyone is okay.”

She encourages anyone who may have been exposed to monitor their symptoms.

Georgiou believes mask-wearing contributed to the low numbers, as well as the fact that events were held outdoors.

“If we get to the very end of June and don’t see a spike than we can move forward thinking that the protests didn’t add very much to the positive case rate for COVID-19,” Georgiou said.

A spokesperson for the Department of Health said on Monday evening the lower positivity rate is due to a number of factors.

“People were outside and majority were wearing masks and their interactions with others were not as prolonged as say sitting next to someone for three hours in a crowded stadium. And the events occurred before broader opening up of activities/economy occurred, so lower exposure rate in general population," said Doug Schultz, with MDH.