ROCHESTER, Minn. — A day after Gov. Tim Walz set 5,000 COVID-19 daily diagnostic tests with ample antibody testing capacity as the benchmark required to reopen the state for business, Mayo Clinic says it is confident it will be able to help fulfill that volume of testing.
"As we open up the testing outside of Mayo Clinic we are prioritizing our colleagues here in the state to have access to that testing," said Dr. William Morice, chair of the Department of the Department of Laboratory Medicine at Mayo Clinic, in an interview on Tuesday.
"We are currently in active discussions with the state government to try to understand how our capacity can help provide the testing needed, as other hospitals are as well."
Specifically, Morice said, the clinic had the ability to produce 8,000 molecular or diagnostic tests daily, and 10,000 serological tests. "Basically," he said, "we will be able to provide much of that to the state here going forward."
During a call with reporters on Tuesday, Walz said he had spoken with Mayo Clinic CEO Gianrico Faruggia on Monday evening about Mayo's testing capacity, adding however that "we're not overly optimistic we can overcome all of the reagents now experiencing shortages."
Soon thereafter in the same press call, state Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm asserted that news would soon be forthcoming about an expanded Mayo role in meeting the state's new high-volume testing expectations required to lift the closure and return Minnesotans to work.
It's a striking departure from the status quo thus far, a coronavirus scarcity economy that has had the state focusing its limited supplies on patients and workers in congregate living centers while "private labs," a category likely dominated by Mayo Clinic, have turned in three to five times as many tests each day, limiting this resource to Mayo high-risk patients, hospitalized persons and staff with symptoms of COVID-19.
The Clinic has likely conducted just over 20,000 such tests in state. As a federal reference laboratory in receipt of government-provided kits from drug maker Roche, Mayo has tested over 60,000 patients from elsewhere in the country during this same time.
With Walz's recent assertion that the state will build its own materials needed to control the pandemic, the heat has suddenly turned up for state organizations to focus their work locally however, if they hope to reenter the economy.
"Reopening society here in Minnesota is of great interest to us," Morice, explained, "both as a member of the community, major employer and to allow patients to regain access to Mayo Clinic. Anything we can do to support that, we will certainly put our full weight behind.".
Walz framed the need to ramp up to 5,000 tests daily not only to help the state return to work in June, but as an off-the-shelf, rapid-response surveillance capacity going forward that will be needed to control outbreaks expected later this year with the second and third waves of the illness.
State health officials outlined a number of barriers still remaining to link lab capacity to the governor's strategy as defined by "test, trace and isolate."
"It becomes tricky to ask these providers to do a coordinated, state-aligned testing regime," Walz said of the disparate community of private health care organizations to be enlisted in a mass-testing protocol, some of whom have already deviated from the state prioritization guidance.
"It's not just tests," Malcolm said. "It's swabs, there's PPE required, there's all kinds of reasons why providers have said, well, we'd love to test more people, but we really want to test some people first."
Malcolm said the state is in the process of developing a larger base of public health officers needed to deliver tests and conduct contact tracing, an arduous process of interviewing persons newly diagnosed and then identifying and advising them on quarantine.
And then there is this: Could the federal government order Mayo and others to offer their testing capacity to patients elsewhere across the country?
"I certainly hope not," Walz said. "If we do this and build resiliency we'll get through this ... when it comes back again, if we have this regimen in place, and that depth to do it ourselves, it will not be nearly as disruptive next time."
Also on Tuesday, nine more Minnesotans died of COVID-19, bringing the total deaths in the state to 79.
The deaths occurred in residents of Ramsey, Dakota and Wilkin counties, with one resident in their 60s, two in their 70s, while six deaths occurred in Hennepin County, five of whom were in their 80s and one in their 90s.
Cases were reported for the first time in three congregate care centers: Bywood East and Meridian Manor in Hennepin County, and Lakewood Manor in Todd County.
The confirmed case rate jumped by 45 to 1,695 on Tuesday. However, state health officials believe the confirmed case rate is 1% of the state total, meaning the true case count in the state now likely approaches 170,000.
This story will be updated. As a public service, we’ve opened this article to everyone regardless of subscription status. If this coverage is important to you, please consider supporting local journalism by clicking on the subscribe button in the upper right-hand corner of the homepage.
Minnesota Department of Health COVID-19 hotline: 651-201-3920.
COVID-19 discrimination hotline: 833-454-0148
Minnesota Department of Health COVID-19 website: Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) website.