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State wants to ramp up saliva tests to meet demand


August 28, 2020

Faced with demand for more Covid-19 tests this fall, the state is using $14 million in federal coronavirus relief funds to build capacity by doing up to 30,000 saliva tests daily.

The strategy relies on a saliva-based test developed by Vault Health and Rutgers University that can be done at home.

Minnesota is already doing 22,000 tests daily. But Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said more than doubling that capacity with saliva tests will help meet demand for tests as schools reopen.

“For schools, it’s going to be critically important that we be able to distinguish the typically respiratory illnesses that kids and teachers encounter from Covid,” Malcolm said.

The saliva test also stands to cut down on the use of scarce personal protective equipment.

Plans include a lab in Minnesota to process these tests, potentially cutting down on the time it takes to get a result.

With the start of school approaching for Minnesota students, state health officials want people to take extra precautions to halt the spread of COVID-19, such as staying away from gatherings outside homes.

Minnesota infectious disease director Kris Ehresmann said everyone should help limit community transmission of the virus to make on-site learning more possible for students.

“Our priority right now is ensuring that kids can safely attend school, and as many in person as safely possible, and so we want to make sure that what’s happening in the community is at a place to allow for as much in-person education as can safely happen,” Ehresmann said.

Due to increasing case numbers, several districts have shifted away from initial plans for in-person learning — and others are considering it.

Worries continue over the growth of Covid-19 among younger Minnesotans, including that those infected will inadvertently spread the virus to more vulnerable or older relatives.

People in their 20s remain the age group with the highest number of Covid-19 confirmed cases in the pandemic — more than 16,000. The median age of cases is 36.

The University of Minnesota’s Board of Regents approved a proposal to delay in-person classes for students on some of its campuses, including Duluth.

According to the plan, nearly all undergraduate classes on three of the university’s campuses — in the Twin Cities, Rochester and Duluth — will now begin online for at least the first two weeks of school this fall. Move-in for students who live in on-campus housing at those three locations will also be delayed by two weeks.


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