Minnesota to partner with U, Mayo for up to 20K tests daily
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The state has struck a deal with the University of Minnesota and the Mayo Clinic to test as many as 20,000 people per day for the coronavirus, Gov. Tim Walz announced Wednesday.
Walz called the partnership a breakthrough for rapid and widespread testing for COVID-19, which is seen as a key across the country for reopening businesses amid the pandemic. Everyone with symptoms of the coronavirus can get tested once the plan ramps up, he promised.
“This is not a state that’s just going to get through COVID-19; this is a state that’s going to lead this nation and the world out of this,” he said. The state will tap $36 million to cover the costs from a fund the Legislature has already approved.
The announcement went well beyond Walz’s stated goal earlier this month of 5,000 tests per day — a number he said he threw out there to challenge his team. The new goal includes both “molecular” testing for the virus itself in patients who may have active infections, and “serology” blood tests for antibodies among people who’ve fought off the virus and may have developed some level of immunity. He said the plan should allow Minnesota to test at a higher rate than any other state — and potentially any other country.
Neither the governor nor other state and health system officials who briefed reporters would give a firm timetable for reaching 20,000 tests per day except to say that they were aiming to do it in the next few weeks.
“We’re not trying to dodge the question, but how quickly we can get there will depend on just a number of factors,” Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said. “This has come together so quickly.”
The Democratic governor said the testing will inform his decisions about restarting Minnesota’s economy, reopening schools and lifting his stay-at-home order, which currently runs through May 4. Walz is coming under increasing criticism from Republicans, and pleas from many business owners, to ease those restrictions. He did not specify how the increased testing will affect his strategies for reopening society, but promised it will.
“I want to assure Minnesotans that this sense of urgency you feel around the economy is weighing on every single one of us. … Absolutely this is going to play in our decisions,” he said.
The initial Republican reaction was positive. “I’m confident this partnership will bring us closer to reopening small and local businesses that so desperately want to get back to work,” Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, of East Gull Lake, said in a statement.
“Minnesota is going to lead the nation in testing, and it’s my hope we can lead the nation in showing how we can safely reopen our economy,” House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, of Crown, said in a statement.
Earlier Wednesday, the Minnesota Department of Health reported that COVID-19 has killed 19 more Minnesotans, marking the largest one-day death toll since the pandemic reached the state.
The 19 new deaths raised the state’s total to 179. The department also reported 154 new confirmed cases, a big one-day jump that raised the state’s total to 2,721. Health officials have cautioned that the real number of Minnesotans infected with the coronavirus is likely much higher because most people don’t qualify for testing, and studies suggest people can be infected without feeling sick.
The department also said 240 Minnesotans were hospitalized with the disease as of Wednesday, up three from Tuesday, while 107 were in intensive care, down 10 from Tuesday. Another 1,317 patients have recovered enough that they no longer need isolation.