NORTH MANKATO — As COVID-19 pandemic cases steadily rise in Minnesota, local officials Friday stressed preparedness over panic.
With the Mankato area not having any confirmed cases yet, medical, public health and school leaders shared how they’re gearing up for potential cases during a press conference at South Central College.
For local health care providers, the preparations include setting up drive-thru testing sites.
The sites should be ready by Monday, according to doctors from Mankato Clinic and Mayo Clinic Health System in Mankato. Patients will need to consult with a provider first to determine if they should be tested. Health workers will swab patients at the sites before the samples are sent off to be confirmed.
“We don’t want you to go directly to the clinic or hospital if you don’t have an emergency,” said Dr. Eric Gomez, an infectious disease physician at Mayo in Mankato. “We want that physician to be prepared to receive you and not expose other patients in that clinic.”
Mayo in Mankato’s drive-thru site will be at its Eastridge clinic. Mankato Clinic is still determining a location but anticipates it to be open Monday, said Dr. Colin Weerts, family medicine physician.
He said Mankato Clinic has adequate testing supplies to handle suspected cases. The Minnesota Department of Health and Mayo Clinic in Rochester have test kits to analyze samples sent from local health facilities — test kits are reportedly in short supply across the country.
Weerts encouraged patients to remain calm, saying health centers are doing their best to keep facilities safe.
“I know this is scaring a lot of people, but it is important to note we will get through this,” he said.
Minnesota had 14 confirmed COVID-19 cases as of Friday afternoon, most centered around the Twin Cities metro. There were more than 137,000 cases worldwide and 1,200 in the U.S. as of Friday afternoon.
Blue Earth and Nicollet counties are advising people to take mitigation strategies against the virus, said Kelley Haeder, Blue Earth County’s public health supervisor. Tips include covering your mouth when coughing, refraining from shaking hands, washing your hands often, and avoiding touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
The county wasn’t making specific recommendations on whether scheduled events should proceed. Gov. Tim Walz advised Minnesotans to avoid gatherings with more than 250 people at a concurrent press conference.
County public health teams would work with the state health department on quarantining and tracking contacts if a local case arises. While it hasn’t happened yet, both Mayo in Mankato and Mankato Clinic have sent samples from suspected COVID-19 cases for testing.
Gomez confirmed Mayo in Mankato has had 11 possible cases tested, while Weerts said Mankato Clinic has handled a small number. Gomez cited worldwide cases in pointing out most people with COVID-19 don’t end up needing hospitalizations.
The ones who’d most likely need hospitalization are those experiencing shortness of breath or people more vulnerable to illness. COVID-19’s death rate is higher among older adults and people with unrelated health conditions.
If a surge in illnesses caused an overflow of hospitalized patients in Mankato, Gomez said Mayo Clinic Health System could move patients to other facilities in the region.
“The plan will be that Mankato so far would be the hub for the region,” he said. “After we go over capacity there, then we will reach out to the other hospitals of the region to help us.”
The officials made clear the pandemic is a rapidly evolving situation. They encouraged people to reach out to the health department’s hotline if they have questions at 651-201-3920 or 1-800-657-3903.