Federal and state agencies work to increase availability of COVID tests as demand grows

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“CentraCare, we work in central Minnesota, western and southwestern Minnesota across many rural communities where there aren’t many other state-based testing sites,” said Dr. George Morris, the Incident Physician Commander for CentraCare’s COIVD-19 response. “In our region, the testing centers are really based on the medical system.”

Dr Morris said that in the fall the system was performing around 8,000 tests a week. The number has increased to 12,000 tests per week.

On Friday, CentraCare and Carris Health decided to suspend testing for those who are asymptomatic, including people seeking testing to return to school, work, daycare or for travel.

“There is an extreme demand for testing, it has exceeded what we can provide to our communities,” Dr Morris said. “We do on-site testing in our area, but even where we send our labs, they can’t keep up with capacity or demand.”

He added: “As a healthcare system, our priority is our patients and by that I mean sick people, people with symptoms, people whose test result will change our clinical management.”

A federal program should ease the burden on providers. Starting Wednesday, Americans can order up to four free tests per household on COVIDTests.gov. Delivery is also free.

The White House estimates that tests will typically ship via USPS within seven to 12 days of ordering.

“I think at this point any increase in testing capacity is important,” Dr Hust said. “I think the most important thing right now is for people to take a test in a way that works.”

Both doctors agree that testing is just one part of the fight against COVID-19.

“As much as testing is important right now to help us identify those who may have COVID and help stop this spread, it’s equally important to get vaccinated and get your reminders,” Dr Hust said. .

Dr. Morris told us that they are working to educate communities through engagement sessions, as vaccination rates are still around 50% in areas served by CentraCare.

“It’s not one or the other,” Dr. Morris said. “We are looking at testing as part of the strategy, we also need masking, we also need proper quarantine and social distancing.”

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