by The Associated Press
MINNEAPOLIS, Minnesota (AP) — Minnesota health officials announced a pilot program Thursday that will provide at-home COVID-19 saliva tests for residents in two dozen counties and tribal nations statewide in an effort to expand access to testing as the state experiences a surge in cases in recent weeks.
The program allows people to order a saliva test through the mail and perform the test in their own home with virtual help from a health care professional. The test will then be shipped to the state’s saliva lab in Oakdale, with results emailed within 24-48 hours.
“Having more options helps to remove barriers, ensuring all Minnesotans have access to quick and reliable testing,” Jan Malcolm, the state’s health commissioner, said in a statement. “The continued increase in COVID-19 cases across Greater Minnesota, tied to small, everyday gatherings, is very concerning. Testing is one way we slow the spread of COVID-19, and the mail order program provides yet another method for Minnesotans to access testing.”
The saliva test the state is using is nearly as accurate as the nasal swab diagnostic tests now in common use, but without the discomfort, Malcolm said. Both tests check for whether someone currently is infected with the coronavirus, as opposed to antibody tests that check for whether someone was previously infected and might have developed some immunity.
Minnesota has four saliva testing sites statewide in Duluth, Moorhead, Winona and Brooklyn Park. A fifth is scheduled to open in Mankato on Friday, and up to five more sites are expected to be opened in the coming weeks.
The at-home test will eventually be available to all Minnesotans after the pilot program, aimed at areas with limited access to testing. Those who order a saliva test will be asked for their health insurance provider, but the test will be made free to the uninsured and those whose insurance does not cover it.
The states reported 1,574 new cases of the coronavirus and 20 deaths on Thursday after matching its single-day record of 35 deaths the day before. The updated numbers brought the state’s totals to 128,152 cases and 2,301 deaths since the pandemic began.
Cases statewide have continued to climb since mid-September as the virus spreads throughout the Upper Midwest. According to data from The COVID Tracking Project, the 7-day rolling average positivity rate in Minnesota has risen over the past two weeks from 4.54% on Oct. 7 to 6.19% on Wednesday.
Minnesota continues to show slower case growth than its neighboring states, with North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin persisting in the top five for most new cases per capita.
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Photo “Saliva Test” by Agência Brasília CC BY 2.0.