ST. PAUL, Minn. (FOX 9) - Gov. Tim Walz says a deal struck with the University of Minnesota and Mayo Clinic will allow for testing of 20,000 Minnesotans per day for the coronavirus, a development Walz's health commissioner said could be achieved within a few weeks.
The program, which includes setup of a centralized lab, will be funded in part by $36 million from a fund created by state lawmakers last month. Additional money will be needed from both Minnesota lawmakers and the federal government, state officials said.
Public officials have long made promises about an increase in testing, even as Minnesota's testing numbers have remained flat throughout April. So, when a reporter asked who Minnesotans should blame if they can't get a test under this new partnership, Walz gave a memorable one-word answer Wednesday.
"Me," Walz said. "And that's how this has to be."
Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said health care providers should start testing all symptomatic people, starting with the most vulnerable populations -- including nursing home residents, people who are homeless, health care workers, and minority communities.
"The goal here is to build up to a capacity of 20,000 a day," Malcolm said. "I would be kidding if I said that would be tomorrow that that happens."
Testing in Minnesota has increased far more slowly than state officials said it would. Minnesota reported 1,647 tests on Wednesday, less than 10 percent of the state's new goal.
Walz says the plan gives Minnesota "the best chance to do massive surveillance that's working in other countries." Minnesota could ultimately test at a faster rate than the rest of the U.S., he said.
The governor, who is facing increasing pressure from Republican lawmakers and some protesters to reopen the economy, said increased testing would be a key factor.
"I think it's going to be critical. I think it's certainly playing into our thinking," Walz said.
But Walz did not lay out a timeline for reopening the economy, and he criticized other states -- including Georgia -- who he said were reopening too quickly. More guidance for businesses will come Thursday, he said.
Officials from the U of M, Mayo Clinic and HealthPartners all took questions from reporters Wednesday. People should go to their primary source of care for a test, the officials said.
HealthPartners chief executive Andrea Walsh said symptomatic patients should call ahead to find out where they could be tested.
"We will be working in partnership to set up places to have testing occur," Walsh said, adding that it would take "a bit of time" to set up the system. HealthPartners cares for roughly 1.2 million people.
There was plenty of congratulations to go around at Wednesday afternoon's news conference about the new agreement.
Said University of Minnesota medical school dean Jakub Tolar: "This is one for the ages."
CONTACT TRACING AND HOTSPOT SURVEILLANCE
The Minnesota Department of Health and local health departments will simultaneously expand COVID-19 contact tracing. The partnership will also help MDH identify and respond to emerging “hotspots” of infection. The state will collect data on prevalence, geographic distribution, and barriers to care for the virus, and they will conduct research on COVID-19 to assure that tests are applied "according to the best emerging science."
CENTRAL LAB AND COMMAND CENTER
In partnership with MDH, the Mayo Clinic and the U of M will create a central lab to accommodate the expanded testing and a virtual command center in coordination with the health systems to monitor daily testing needs and coordinate rapid responses to outbreaks.
Wednesday, the MDH reported 1,647 completed tests statewide over the past 24 hours, the third-most of any single day, though testing is still down this week compared to early April.
Minnesota reported 179 deaths related to COVID-19 as of Wednesday, up from 160 the day before.
The total number of positive cases has now reached 2,721. However, health officials say the number of confirmed cases is still considered to be an undercount due to a lack of widespread testing.