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NUMC adds in-house COVID-19 testing

Staff photo by Kevin Sweeney New Ulm Medical Center lab technicians Julie Bates (left) and Shelby Abfalter stand in front of the new COVID-19 analyzer as it processes a batch of COVID-19 tests. NUMC can now process tests in-house, which will speed up test results.

NEW ULM — Starting Monday, New Ulm Medical Center will be analyzing COVID-19 tests in house with new equipment that Allina Health has added in all of its regional hospitals.

The equipment was installed recently, and staff have been trained on it. The service will be ready to roll out on Monday.

The new in-house testing will allow NUMC to return test results within 12 to 24 hours. NUMC will be able to do about 42 tests per day, not quite half of the number it usually conducts. It will still be sending some tests to Allina’s central testing lab, which has also added testing equipment to increase the number of tests and the speed of getting test results. Those test results should be coming back in 24 to 36 hours

NUMC’s lab manager Kathy Runck said that Allina’s central lab had been struggling with turnaround time for COVID results. It was overwhelmed with the number of tests coming in and had to send many out to an external lab. Tests results sometimes took up to five days to come back.

The addition of new equipment in the central lab means Allina won’t have to outsource its testing as much, and the placement of analyzers in the regional Allina hospitals will help lower the number of tests coming in.

Runck said NUMC will still be limiting who it tests. The focus will be on in-patient cases, patients coming to the emergency department with symptoms, patients about to be discharged to convalescent facilities, and hospital staff.

People who have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 and wants to find out if they have it can still call to make appointments.

But part of the new testing protocol is that patients will have to be examined by a doctor to make sure they need the test.

“Patients have been calling in to report some of the COVID-19 symptoms and requesting a test,” said Stacey Heiling, primary care manager for NUMC. “We want to be able to fully assess what their condition is.”

Dr. Obehioye Okojie, a pediatrician with NUMC, said there are a lot of different COVID-19 symptoms covered a wide range, and are often indicative of other diseases. “There are so many other respiratory viruses that go around in the winter — cold, RSV, croup, strep, mono, all these different things that have very similar symptoms. If you come in and just get tested for COVID, that’s insufficient to evaluate and treat your symptoms.”Some of these diseases heave treatments to alleviate the symptoms or prevent them from creating more serious illness. A visit with a doctor can help determine what the patient actually has, and get them the treatment they need. Some COVID symptoms like shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea could be caused by some even more serious, life-threatening conditions that should be treated quickly.

People who are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, or may have been exposed to someone who has it, can call NUMC for an appointment at 507-217-5011, or go to the emergency department if seriously ill. Testing is available at other places as well. The Hy-Vee Pharmacy in New Ulm is doing testing by appointment from 7 to 9 a.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays, and 8 to 10 a.m. on Saturdays.

The Minnesota Department of Health has opened a saliva testing station in Mankato at the former Gander Mountain Store. Tests are available 12 to 7 p.m. Monday, Tuesday and Friday, and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Schedule appointments with Vault Health (https://mncovidtestingappt.as.me/schedule.php).

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