The Minnesota Department of Health said Tuesday the state is tightening the criteria for COVID-19 testing amid a national shortage of testing materials.
As the spread of the novel coronavirus continues — Minnesota announced 60 confirmed cases of the disease Tuesday — officials said the move will allow them to focus on highest-priority patients. Blue Earth and Waseca counties didn’t have new cases confirmed Tuesday, although both have one existing case each.
Tests will be reserved mostly for the elderly, health care workers, people with underlying health conditions who are already hospitalized, as well as those who live in what health officials call “congregate living” situations, such as long-term care facilities or nursing homes.
The health department said Tuesday that all other patients — those who have a fever, cough, shortness of breath and other symptoms associated with a possible COVID-19 infection — should self-quarantine and isolate themselves from others, even family, as much as possible.
Patients with severe symptoms, or who are members of populations most vulnerable to the most severe impacts — older adults and those who have significant underlying health conditions — are being told to contact their health care providers before they seek testing.
Drive-thru exam sites at Mayo Clinic Health System in Mankato and Mankato Clinic will continue. Samples collected at the sites will be sent to other labs for testing rather than to the health department.
Kris Ehresmann, director of the Minnesota Department of Health’s infectious disease division, said Minnesota has requested more tests and protective equipment for health professionals from the federal government, and is waiting to find out when they might receive it, adjusting its response to the disease accordingly.
“Obviously, this is a continuously moving situation and we are assessing and adapting on a daily, if not hourly, basis,” she said.
In a letter to the Trump administration last week, Gov. Tim Walz wrote that the ability to test widely is critical to the state’s response to COVID-19.
“We have been forced to ration the number of tests performed at our public health lab,” Walz wrote. “I call upon you to help ensure we appropriately prevent and mitigate the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Health officials for weeks have been increasingly raising the alarm over the spread of the novel coronavirus in the U.S. The disease is transmitted through respiratory droplets, coughs and sneezes, similar to the way the flu can spread.
Mayo in Mankato and other facilities in its health system are deferring elective care beginning March 23 to free up resources needed for COVID-19 response. Some staff will be redeployed to areas of need, according to a release from the health system.
“This will include both elective surgeries, procedures and office visits,” said Dr. Amy Williams, Mayo Clinic’s dean of practice, in the release. “Semi-urgent, urgent and emergency care will continue in clinic and hospital settings.”
Government and medical leaders are urging people to wash their hands frequently and well, refrain from touching their faces, cover their coughs, disinfect surfaces and avoid large crowds, all in an effort to curb the virus’ rapid spread.