COVID-19 testing revisited—stopping the spread

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We continue to have surging COVID-19 infections as we head further into winter during this global pandemic. As the influenza season is also upon us, it is important to be vigilant regarding Sars-CoV-2 within our state.

This pandemic has led to poor medical outcomes within communities of color as well as other at-risk communities. All Minnesotans should be aware of who should get tested, when that test should occur, and where to get tested.

Who and when

It’s important to identify which individuals should seek testing during this pandemic, particularly as some individuals see testing as a means to gather safely. Testing availability has improved, but resources are taxed as case numbers surge, and testing resources are being stretched.

Regardless, negative test results alone do not change the need for mask wearing, hand washing, or social distancing. The potential for vaccination from Sars-CoV-2 may be imminent, but we still need to limit further cases of this deadly illness if vaccination is to be effective. 

Contracting COVID-19 can be very debilitating and even fatal, as most are aware. Five types of individuals, listed below, are identified as high risk for contracting COVID-19 and should seek testing.

Individuals who are:

A)  With symptoms of COVID-19 (fever, cough, fatigue, new loss of taste or smell, nausea, diarrhea, headache, runny nose, difficulty breathing)

      1) Obtain a COVID test ASAP

      2) Isolate for at least 7 to 10 days

B)  In need of medical care or a procedure (elective surgery, colonoscopy, etc.)

      Test 24-72 hours prior

C)  In close contact with someone suspected to have COVID-19

      Test 5-7 days after exposure

D)  Pregnant individuals are screened for testing

      1) Upon admission to hospital

      2) Typically from 37-40 weeks

E)  Newborns born to a pregnant person with suspected COVID-19

      Tested when neonate is one day to two days old      

The current testing options in the state of Minnesota are varied. In a prior article (see below) I delineated the differing tests available at the time, predominantly nasal and oral swabbing for use during Polymerase Chain Reaction antigen testing. A test for the antibodies to Sars-CoV-2 is possible if samples from patient blood are obtained. Positive antibody results indicate current and possibly past exposure to the virus.

An added option is saliva testing that may be done at home or obtained in a clinic setting if available. All of the above tests possess varied accuracy and meaning of their results. A health care professional may help guide which test is best for you as well as what the results may mean.

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Where to get tested

  • The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) does provide guidance for the location of various testing options.
  • On-site health care (hospitals, urgent care): Sometimes limited to symptomatic individuals with insurance
  • Pharmacies: Free of charge at many locations (ask first), but samples may be sent out of state which can delay results
  • Pop-up community testing events: Sponsored by MDH, possibly staffed by National Guard and lasting one day to one week). These events are set up for high-risk groups. The testing results may take two to three days, but are typically free of charge
  • Semi-permanent testing sites: Placed throughout the state, but you need transport there as well as on-line access to locate and register for site access
  • Workplace testing: Seen in high transmission workplaces and typically free to the employee
  • Higher education institutions (colleges, universities): Predominantly for staff and students of the institution
  • Group settings (long-term care, incarcerated individuals, group homes, treatment facilities): Testing is coordinated by MN Dept. of Health and contracted health care providers
  • In-home test: Transportation is not needed, but on-line web access is required to order and initiate the test via Vault Health web portal. Free to Minnesotans, limited to five tests per household with results only sent via email within 24-48 hours after the sample is received.

Note for in-home tests: If an individual has insurance, they will provide their information so your insurance company is billed for the test. If the individual’s insurance does not pay for SARS-CoV-2 tests or does not pay enough, the State will cover the cost. If individuals do not have insurance, the State will pay for the test.

For more information, try COVID Community Coordinators (CCC), who can answer questions on where to get tested for COVID-19. They are also a resource for food support, mental health resources, housing assistance, employment opportunities, and COVID-19 contact tracing.

CCC’s contract with the State (see below) is to serve communities hit hardest by COVID-19, including communities of color, American Indian communities, LGBTQ communities, and Minnesotans with disabilities.

The MDH and state leadership may also create targeted testing hotspots if there is an increase in COVID-19 cases within a localized area. This may also occur if the community has concerns regarding virus spread and the data supports creating a site for testing.

The site may be a drive-through or walk-through, but will have space for social distancing.  One may contact a community coordinator for how to report a possible COVID-19 hotspot.

We all can do our part to stop the spread of this deadly virus by seeking testing when appropriate and continuing to practice social distancing, mask wearing, and hand washing.

Individuals with questions about their at-home saliva test can email TestAtHome.MDH@state.mn.us.

To contact COVID Community Coordinators (CCC), visit www.health.state.mn.us/ccc. To read Dr. Ennevor’s previous article, visit https://spokesman-recorder.com/2020/04/18/what-you-should-know-about-testing-for-COVID-19-infections/

About Sean J. Ennevor, MD

Sean J. Ennevor M.D. graduated with a B.A.S. in biology and economics from Stanford University, and as a Dean’s Scholar from UCLA School of Medicine, where he received his MD. He completed his medical residency and fellowship in anesthesiology at Yale University, where he was chief resident and on staff. He practiced medicine in the Twin Cities for over 14 years and presently serves as an advisor and investor for medical technology companies throughout the country.

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