Minnesota COVID-19 briefing: State health officials address guidance for testing, vaccine reassurance

Tommy Wiita
Updated: November 24, 2020 03:21 PM
Created: November 24, 2020 02:58 PM

On Tuesday, Minnesota Department of Health officials addressed the current state of the COVID-19 pandemic in Minnesota.

MDH Commissioner Jan Malcolm, Director of Infectious Disease Epidemiology Kris Ehresmann and MDH Assistant Commissioner Dan Huff joined the call.

Latest COVID-19 data

Earlier Tuesday, the latest MDH COVID-19 report stated 38 new virus-related deaths, along with 6,423 newly reported cases. Malcolm noted it's been 10 days since MDH reported the highest case count during this pandemic, but added that the state's case rate is still fluctuating and not a reliable trend to go off of. She said recent lower case numbers are a good sign but the department believes it's another wave of the pandemic and not necessarily the downside of a peak.

Since the beginning of the month, there have been 1,080 more COVID-19 patients in hospital beds. In the past week, MDH has recorded 360 COVID-19 deaths.

Malcolm noted one positive sign in the latest data. Last week, the seven-day rolling test positivity rate stood at 15.2%. This week, it's down to 14.3%.

Testing guidance

Huff spoke on the new testing guidance that was introduced to Minnesotans on Friday.

"Continuing to see a strong demand for testing. We want to make sure Minnesotans know the guidance and are able to get a test when needed," Huff said, urging Minnesotans to have a plan and look at the options to know what's best for each individual.

For more information on testing guidance, click here.

Huff said the new test at-home system has been "wildly successful." Over 210,000 tests have been sent out since the program expanded statewide earlier this month. About 38,000 of those have been returned and processed. Due to the overwhelming demand for the saliva tests, it has caused some logistical issues, according to Huff.

"We're continuing to work through [the issues]. We're capping daily limits at 12,500 because of the timeliness factor, as we need them delivered right away and processed ASAP," Huff said during the call.

Turnaround times for saliva tests are about 24 to 48 hours, and nasal swabs take about 48 to 72 hours to get results.

Huff added if the website is not working, he recommends to try again the following day or visit a community testing site.

Full COVID-19 coverage

Upcoming holiday weekend

Regarding some families planning to gather during the holiday weekend but having the intentions of getting tested before or afterward, Huff says that plan is not foolproof.

The test only measures for the virus at that one time when the test is taken. It could be too early to be detected by the test and then could infect your entire family, Huff noted.

Ehresmann added that someone who gets tested two weeks ago and quarantined for 14 days going into the holidays should be fine, however, simply taking a test and continuing to proceed with plans like normal is a bad plan.

"For those planning on ignoring the state's guidance, please wear masks and social distance," Ehresmann said.

Vaccine concerns

Concerning those who are worried about taking the COVID-19 vaccine when it is available, Ehresmann says it will be safe.

"Everything is being done to speed up the process, but that isn't increasing risks with the vaccine," she said. "Companies have simply started recruiting for later phases of trials while still in the earlier stages to make sure there is no delay in moving to later phases."

She stated that the federal government is also paying the upfront costs for companies seeking U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval to get more options submitted. Those that are not safe will not be used and the company developing the vaccine doesn't lose its money, which is key for most working with the development.

In summary, Ehresmann reassured Minnesotans that the development of the vaccine has been made "more efficient, not rushed." MDH officials said they will wait for the vaccine to get FDA approval and advisory board approval before distributing it.

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