Mar 21, 2022 - News

Minnesota prepares to close more COVID-19 testing sites as cases drop

Photo illustration of Minnesota Governor Tim Walz with lines radiating from him.
Photo Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios. Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

As COVID cases continue to fall, Minnesota is preparing to further shift into an "endemic" phase of pandemic management.

What's happening: State officials are finalizing plans to start to close more community testing and vaccination sites "with the ability to pop them out almost immediately should we need them again," Gov. Tim Walz told Axios Thursday.

  • A testing site in Anoka that reopened during the Omicron surge has already shuttered, he said.

What he's saying: The DFL governor said while he's "optimistic" about the current state of the virus, the state needs to be prepared to tackle future waves or booster shot drives quickly "without all of the massive upfront costs and work."

  • "What happens if we have to come back here in April, May or August whenever the next surge comes?" he said. "How do we properly scale back up?"

Driving the wind down: Case numbers and local wastewater surveillance data suggest the virus is at its lowest level in months.

  • Although some permanent testing sites, such as the one at the Mall of America, remain popular, overall testing is down about 10%.

Plus: While PCR tests remain the gold standard, at-home kits are now widely available.

Yes, but: A rise in cases in Europe, connected to the spread of the Omicron subvariant BA.2, is prompting caution.

  • "I'm in a different spot than I was six days ago, because of the new data we're seeing [and conversations with] the folks at Mayo and others that are showing some of these peculiarities around this new subvariant," Walz said.

Of note: The timing of the closures isn't clear. When asked for details, a Minnesota Department of Health spokesperson said there are currently no changes to community testing sites.

What to watch: A federal stalemate over pandemic response funding could complicate scaled-back mitigation efforts here.

  • Walz said that funding holdup has already created concerns about how to pay for tests for the uninsured.

What's next: State officials are in the final stages of an "after action" report that Walz described as "a playbook for future administrations and future Minnesotans" for "long-term maintenance of an endemic phase."

  • The governor expects that to be released to the public by the end of the month.

The state's vaccination efforts, meanwhile, could pick up if the shots are approved for kids under 5 in the coming months.

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