Health department updates COVID-19 testing criteria

Published 12:54 pm Friday, November 20, 2020

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The Minnesota Department of Health issued updated testing recommendations Friday on who needs to be tested, when to be tested and which option may be best as the state prepares to start a dial-back period to slow the state’s rate of COVID-19 transmission.

According to MDH Assistant Commissioner Dan Huff, the COVID-19 testing criteria help people evaluate when it is necessary to receive a test and help ensure those getting tested have the fastest turnaround time possible, according to a press release.

“Testing is an important tool for slowing the spread of COVID-19 and we are committed to providing no-barrier access for everyone who needs it,” Huff said. “We don’t want people to be confused by their options — it can be difficult to know which test people should take, and when exactly they should take it. Our updated criteria will help people more quickly determine what’s best for them in their situation.”

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Minnesotans now have several accessible choices available to them, including 20 longer-term community testing sites offering nasal and saliva testing, a mail-order program, and clinics and hospitals across the state. The updated recommendations include a list of who should seek testing as well as suggestions on when to get tested and which option to use.

Huff pointed out that during the dial-back period it is important to prioritize workers in industries that remain open.

“We talk regularly about health care workers as our front-line heroes, but that label also applies to our child care workers, retail and grocery store workers, public safety and others working to keep our critical infrastructure up and running,” Huff said. “We need them, along with anyone with symptoms or who was exposed to someone who tested positive, to continue having access to reliable and quick testing.”

Who should get tested?

1) Anyone with symptoms should seek out testing immediately.

• Symptoms of COVID-19 can include cough, shortness of breath, fever, chills, headache, muscle pain, sore throat, or loss of taste or smell.

Stay home when you are sick, whether you seek testing or not. If you leave your home to get a test, wear a mask and stay 6 feet away from other people. The COVID-19 Test at Home program may be your best option for getting tested in the comfort of your own home.

Community testing sites are best for people with mild symptoms. If you have moderate to severe symptoms, call your doctor or health care provider or go to the hospital.

2) Anyone who was exposed to someone who tested positive for COVID-19 should get tested.

• It is best to get tested at least five days after the last time you were close to the person with COVID-19. If you get tested too soon, the test may not be able to detect the virus.

You will need to stay home for 14 days after your last contact with the person who has COVID-19, whether you have symptoms or not. Even with a negative result and no symptoms, you must still quarantine for 14 days.

The COVID-19 Test at Home program may be your best option for getting tested, particularly if you learn about exposure early in the 14-day window.

If you would prefer to visit a Community Testing Site, make an appointment. If the site nearest you has no available appointments on the day you are looking to get tested, either look at a later date or try finding a testing location a little farther away.

3) Anyone who is still working at places that remain open during the dial-back should get tested. This includes critical infrastructure, first responders, health care, retail, child care, etc.

• If you do not have symptoms and you have not been notified of exposure, you are still at risk given how quickly the virus is spreading.

Make a plan to get tested at least once before Dec. 18. If possible, get tested once near the beginning of the four-week period and once again near the end of the four-week period.

Make an appointment at a Community Testing Site. Plan ahead to find an available appointment, even if that includes looking at a testing location a little farther away.

The COVID-19 Test at Home program may also be a good option for those getting tested as part of a screening strategy.

In addition to offering these criteria, health officials are urging people to make an appointment to get a test and only use the walk-in option for testing if they need a test that very day. Too many people coming without an appointment can create long lines and increase potential for unsafe in-person gatherings. Testing sites in Greater Minnesota and outer suburbs may have more appointment availability than sites in and near the Twin Cities, so finding a testing site farther away may be a good option to consider.