Minnesota Dept. of Health narrowing testing criteria amid national shortage of COVID-19 tests

The Minnesota Department of Health says it is narrowing the criteria to test for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, due to a limited supply of testing materials. 

The health department said there is a national shortage of COVID-19 testing material. As such, the state is adjusting its testing criteria, giving high priority to hospitalized patients as well as ill health care workers and ill persons in congregate living settings such as long-term care. The new restrictions on testing will be in place indefinitely--until more tests are provided to Minnesota.

Minnesota now has at least 60 confirmed cases of COVID-19. They have tested 2,336 people for the illness so far. 

The health department sent a message to Minnesota health care providers on Tuesday with the following guidance regarding its new testing criteria:

  • Hospitals and health care systems should assess whether they can send specimens to a commercial reference laboratory, and determine their own priorities for testing and assess whether these labs have restrictions.
  • Limit sending specimens to the Minnesota Department of Health to those from hospitalized COVID-19 patients. At this time, MDH can also test ill health care workers and ill persons living in congregate settings.
  • Providers should inform all patients with undiagnosed fever and/or acute respiratory symptoms (cough, shortness of breath), even those not able to be tested, that they should self-quarantine for 7 days after illness onset, or 72 hours after resolution of fever (without taking fever-reducing medications), and improvement of respiratory symptoms, whichever is longer. Patients should seek care if their symptoms become severe. They should call ahead to health provider when possible.
  • Patients with symptoms who are not able to be tested should isolate themselves from household and intimate contacts as much as possible. Household and intimate contacts of these individuals should limit their activities in public for 14 days after the incorporating precautions in the home, and monitor for symptoms.

The health department said people who have suspect or known cases of COVID-19, but who are not severely ill, should stay home while they recover. If they have severe underlying health conditions or are older adults, they should contact their health care provider to see if they have additional recommendations for them. 

If someone develops severe symptoms, they should call their health care provider if possible prior to seeking care

MDH Commissioner Kris Ehresmann said there is a positive unintended consequence of having fewer tests, however. With fewer positive tests, Minnesota's health care facilities are still mostly unburdened. 

The department said it is still accepting testing from private clinics like the Mayo Clinic and others statewide. Yesterday, the Mayo Clinic provided one of the six positive tests to MDH. Another positive test was sent in by a second private clinic. 


To conserve the state's limited COVID-19 testing supplies, M Health Fairview is reserving tests for patients who are critically ill and closing its drive-up testing centers, effective immediately. 

M Health Fariview said it will continue to counsel patients through a virtual visit process at OnCare.org where staff will evaluate symptoms and advise on a course of care. Staff from the drive-up testing centers are being reallocated to enhance the provider's online services. 


Last week, Gov. Tim Walz sent a letter to Vice President Mike Pence calling for an immediate increase in the number of COVID-19 laboratory tests available to Minnesota health care providers. 

He asked the federal government to increase the state's access to COVID-19 testing kits as well as all the reagents and supplies needed to conduct those tests. He wants the health department to be able to test 15,000 people per month. 


The virus that causes COVID-19 is spread primarily by respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes, similar to how influenza is spread. It can also spread when people touch surfaces that have been contaminated by an infected person and then touch their eyes, nose or mouth.

Minnesota health officials say if you are sick, stay home for at least seven days and at least three days without a fever (without fever-reducing medication.)

"People do not need to be tested for COVID-19 if they're in a situation where they'd be able to manage their symptoms at home; since there is no treatment for mild cases, there is no clinical decision that would be made based on the test result," MDH Director of Infectious Disease Kris Ehresmann said.


MDH has set up a COVID-19 public hotline that is open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. The hotline number is 651-201-3920.

The Minnesota Department of Public Safety has a hotline to field questions about the issues associated with community mitigation, including school and business impacts.

That line is open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily, and the hotline numbers are metro 651-297-1304, and toll-free 1-800-657-3504.