Local coronavirus test site opens

Published 2:11 pm Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Drive-thru COVID-19 test site in HealthReach parking lot


Mayo Clinic Health System in Albert Lea on Monday opened a drive-thru coronavirus testing site for patients in the area in the parking lot of its HealthReach campus.

Tricia Dahl, operations administrator for Mayo Clinic Health System in Albert Lea and Austin, said 21 people were tested at the site Monday, and five people had been tested as of 11 a.m. Tuesday.

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The drive-thru testing sites were piloted in Rochester last week and opened Monday in Albert Lea, Austin, Owatonna and Red Wing. At the four Health System sites, 100 tests were conducted in the first day of testing, Dahl said.

People who have symptoms of COVID-19, including sore throat, dry cough and fever, and who think they should be tested, are asked to first call their primary provider before coming in, Dahl said. A provider or nurse will ask the patient questions, and based on the answers to those questions, will be directed to the test site if appropriate. A nurse will call ahead to place the order for the test.

She said people should not drive up to the test site without calling ahead to preserve the tests for patients who meet criteria for testing.

People who go through testing are asked to self-quarantine until their results come back, typically within 72 hours.

The testing itself is a nasal swab and is taken to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester for processing. Results are given to the Minnesota Department of Health, which then reports testing results statewide.

Dahl encouraged people to sign up for Mayo Clinic Health System’s online portal to see results as they come in.

She said if people are not currently Mayo patients they can still utilize the testing site. They should call the Health System’s main line at 507-373-2384 and ask to be directed to the triage line can help people get set up as patients.

The triage line has been challenged with keeping up with demand and has received about 3,300 calls a day, Dahl said. Additional staff have been added to handle demand, but people should anticipate a wait when calling the line.

“We certainly understand that people are scared, but the best thing people can do is be patient,” she said.

She said the various Health System sites will conduct testing as long as supplies continue. She is not concerned about supplies yet, but noted that there haven’t been many tests done yet and there is much uncertainty with the virus.

So far, people ranging in age from 6 months to 80 years have been tested. 

“We’re really fortunate to have this available,” Dahl said.

She said various protective measures are in place for employees conducting the testing as well, including gowns, gloves, caps for hair and masks. Only one employee is interacting with each patient.

The swab is turned over to a “clean” nurse inside the building, who has not had the possibility of being exposed to the virus or any other illness. A provider is also inside the building, as well as other employees. The specimen is placed in a refrigerator until it is taken to Rochester.

Testing is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. seven days a week.