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The daily coronavirus update: 7 more deaths; saliva testing sites opening around the state

The saliva tests are similar in accuracy to the more familiar nose-swab tests, but feature a less invasive sample collection procedure.

Photo: CDC/Alissa Eckert

MinnPost provides updates on coronavirus in Minnesota Sunday through Friday. The information is published following a press phone call with members of the Walz administration or after the release of daily COVID-19 figures by the Minnesota Department of Health.

Here are the latest updates from October 13, 2020:

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114,574 confirmed cases; 2,151 deaths

Seven more Minnesotans have died of COVID-19, the Minnesota Department of Health said Tuesday, for a total of 2,151.

Of the deaths announced Tuesday, one was of a person in their 90s, five were of people in their 80s and one was of a person in their 70s. Two of the seven people whose deaths were announced Tuesday were residents of long-term care facilities.

The current death toll only includes Minnesotans with lab-confirmed positive COVID-19 tests. Tuesdays are typically days where fewer tests and positive cases are announced because they reflect decreased testing activity over the weekend.

MDH also said Tuesday there have been 114,574 total confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Minnesota. The number of cases is up 1,135 from Monday’s count and is based on 19,444 new tests. You can find the seven-day positive case average here.

The latest hospitalization data show 347 people in the hospital with COVID-19 who are not in the ICU and 134 people in the ICU with COVID-19. Since the start of the outbreak, 8,500 Minnesotans have been hospitalized. You can find more information about Minnesota’s current ICU usage and capacity here.

Of the 114,574 confirmed positive cases in Minnesota, 102,624 are believed to have recovered.

More information on cases can be found here.

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Saliva testing sites to open across the state

Gov. Tim Walz announced Monday that new COVID-19 saliva testing sites will open in the coming weeks in communities around Minnesota.

A site in Winona will open Wednesday, a Moorhead site will open Saturday and a site in Brooklyn Park will open Tuesday, October. 20. Six additional sites — two in Greater Minnesota and four in the metro area — are expected to open later in the month. The locations of these six sites have not yet been released. The state’s first saliva test site opened in Duluth last month.

Gov. Tim Walz
REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
Gov. Tim Walz
Saliva testing relies on the same process as nasopharyngeal testing (the nose swabs), in that they are both PCR tests that detect whether or not someone is currently infected with COVID-19. They differ in the method of sample collection. In the case of saliva tests, the user spits into a funnel attached to a tube. The saliva test that will be used at the Minnesota sites is similar in accuracy — within a couple percentage points — to nasopharyngeal swabs, MDH officials said.

Saliva testing will supplement Minnesota’s current COVID-19 testing efforts by adding capacity as well as helping tests get processed more quickly, per MDH.

The tests will be processed at a new Infinity Biologix lab in Oakdale, so they can be taken by courier instead of shipped to a lab that’s further away. The lab is expected to open next week. Faster turnaround times have the advantage of allowing public health officials to notify residents if their test is positive more quickly.

“The longer it takes to find out if somebody has this, the more they unknowingly spread it,” Walz said.

MDH Assistant Commissioner Daniel Huff said insurance will be billed when those seeking tests have it, but the test takers will not receive a bill. Those who are uninsured or underinsured will not be billed.

Huff said when it is fully up and running, the saliva testing program will add capacity of roughly 30,000 tests per day, bringing the state’s total testing capacity to 60,000 tests per day.

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The state is also piloting a mail-order program for saliva tests, which will allow Minnesotans to receive a kit at home. The program is expected to be widely available in November.

More information on the saliva testing sites, including locations and hours, can be found here.

Wisconsin cracks down as cases rise; is Minnesota next?

As COVID-19 case counts have increased in Wisconsin, the state has imposed new restrictions on the amount of people who can gather in bars and restaurants in the past week.

While case positivity rates are hovering at concerning levels and Minnesota’s case counts and hospitalizations have increased recently, the state’s numbers don’t look quite as bad as its neighbors, as the Upper Midwest emerges as a virus hotspot.

Asked whether he would impose new restrictions in Minnesota if the public health risk heightens here, Walz did not give specifics but said he favors tailored restrictions based on activities that data show cause transmission.

“The data and the facts will drive us to where we’re going. We are certainly in a better place than our surrounding neighbors but that can change very quickly and I think one of the things to understand is where the spread is coming from,” he said.

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MDH’s coronavirus website:

MDH’s phone line for COVID-19 questions, Mon.-Fri. 9 a.m. to 4 p.m: 651-297-1304