More testing at Minnesota Sanford and Avera sites? Original

SOUTHWESTERN MINNESOTA (KELO) — Just because of the state of Minnesota has the ability to test 20,000 people a day for coronavirus doesn’t mean 20,000 people will be tested each day, health care officials said.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz said on June 28, a partnership between the University of Minnesota and the Mayo Clinic has meant the state has the ability to test up to 20,000 people a day for COVID-19. The Associated Press reported the state has built up capacity to supplement local health organizations in the state.

COVID-19 tests still need to make medical sense, said a doctor from Sanford Health in Sioux Falls and a doctor from Avera Marshall in southwestern Minnesota. Sanford and Avera both have medical sites in Minnesota.

“…having more tests available is only one-half of the story,” Dr. Steve Meister, the chief medical officer at Avera Marshall Regional Medical Center in Lyon County, said.

The other half is making sure the testing makes sense, Meister said.

Medically-sound testing would include testing people who may be symptomatic after they have consulted with their health care provider or testing health care people who are at-risk of contracting COVID-19, Dr. Jeremy Cauwels, the senior vice president of quality at Sanford Health, said.

COVID-19 symptoms can show up the day after testing negative and the person can test positive the next day, the two doctors said.

“People say, ‘I’m tested. I’m negative. I have nothing to worry about.’ That’s not true,” Meister said. “You are negative for that particular moment in time.”

Although the Minnesota Department of Health and South Dakota have some differences in their approaches to COVID-19 testing, Sanford encourages patients of its facilities, including those in Minnesota, to contact their health care providers first, Cauwels said.

Things like summer colds happened before COVID-19 and are happening now; that’s one reason why it’s important for individuals to talk with their health care provider before seeking a COVID-19 test, Cauwels said.

Testing must still have priorities even if testing capability in the state has increased, Meister said. And testing can’t replace common sense practices such as good hygiene and covering a cough or sneeze.

Avera Health has a contact network for individuals with questions about COVID-19. The network can refer Minnesota residents with questions about COVID-19 testing to Minnesota health care facilities like Avera Marshall, Avera Marshall clinical lab director Amy Otten said.

Those referrals could result in more COVID-19 testing at Marshall, Otten said.

But knowing Minnesota has capacity to conduct 20,000 tests a day is re-assuring.

“The volume helps in a crisis,” Cauwels said.

“To me as a physician, the fact that we can test more people is helpful,” Meister said.

Contact tracing starts when positive cases are identified, Meister said.

Those in close contact with COVID-19 individual could be tested and are asked to quarantine for 14 days, according to Minnesota Department of Health and Centers for Disease Control guidelines.

In short, Carol Biren, director of Southwest Health and Human Services, said if there is more testing, there can be more contact tracing. Southwest Health and Human Services is a multi-county public health and human services organization.

Southwest Health does not do the contact tracing; that’s done by the state. It helps individuals who may need resources while on quarantine. It also works with businesses who are re-opening and want to keep employees and the public safe, Biren said.

Many employers are responding when an employee shares he or she has COVID-19 symptoms, Biren said. The employee is urged to get a test and those who work in close contact with the employee are sent home until the test results are known, Biren said.

If the employee tests positive, it could call for more tests or quarantine of co-workers, Biren said.

So far, Avera Marshall has been handling the need for COVID-19 testing.

So have Sanford facilities in Worthington, Luverne and Tracy, all in southwestern Minnesota, Cauwels said.

How the capability of 20,000 tests per day could impact medical facilities is uncertain.

“I would say it’s day by day. We all set internal benchmarks if we find ourselves in a surge,” Otten said.

Daily testing

“We’ve been averaging 15 or 20 a day,” Otten said.

Cauwels said Worthington, for example, has averaged about 25 tests per day.

Avera Marshall and Sanford sites in southwestern Minnesota get help with processing those tests from their partner sites in Sioux Falls.

Tests that may need to be processed quickly, such as for an admitted patient, are done locally. Others can be sent to Avera or Sanford labs in Sioux Falls.

Tests at Avera Marshall and Sanford sites are done on a priority basis, which can include health care workers, admitted hospital patients, symptomatic individuals and exposed individuals.

Otten said the Avera Marshall lab had an instrument to process tests, “we had to make an adjustment.”

“For the (tests) we don’t run in house, our first choice is to (use) Avera McKennan,” Otten said.

Lab staff is adjusted based on the volume of COVID-19 testing and regular non-COVID-19 testing that happens each day, Otten said.

Cauwels said the capacity in Minnesota is geared more toward Twin Cities health care facilities that were having difficulty with testing supplies.

“The Sanford sites (in Minnesota) have the ability to do testing when they need it,” Cauwels said.

That includes in Worthington in Nobles County where COVID-19 had surged in June, he said.

Nobles County had 1,655 cases as of July 1 and Lyon County had 300.

COVID-19 Cases in Nobles County as of July 11,655
COVID-19 Cases in Lyon County as of July 1300
Based on data from Minnesota Department of Health

What can mass testing in Marshall tell us

A surge in cases in Lyon County, some of which includes cases in employees at a meat processing plant in Marshall, prompted Avera Marshall, the Southwest Health and Human Services, the city of Marshall, the Minnesota Department of Health and others to establish a community testing site last week.

Avera Marshall and several partners conducted a community wide three-day testing event.

Otten said 1,019 people were tested at the community site at one clinic. Another 200 people were tested at different site.

The three-day community testing clinic illustrates the positive and potential negative of COVID-19 testing, Meister said.

While COVID-19 tests are highly sensitive, the test results depend on the viral load in a person’s body, Meister said.

Fifty percent of those who tested positive during those three days were asymptomatic, meaning that had no COVID-19 symptoms, Meister said. Roughly 5% of those tested that day were positive.

Again, those who tested negative, only tested negative for that day, Meister said.

But positive COVID-19 test results can help contain the illness as contact tracing quickly follows.

Positive individuals are advised to quarantine as are those with whom the COVID-19 patient has had close contact.

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