8-25 COVID-19 Update from MN Department of Health: New Saliva Testing Lab
Minnesota Department of Health COVID-19 Update 8-25-2020
The Minnesota Department of Health held a 2 p.m. conference call Tuesday to brief members of the media on the latest public health information regarding COVID-19.
Today’s Topic: State’s New Saliva Testing Lab
MDH Commissioner Jan Malcolm:
- Globally, 23.6 million cases since pandemic began; 813,000 deaths
- In U.S., 5.7 million cases since start of pandemic; 177,000 deaths
- In Minnesota, 70,707 confirmed cumulative cases (up 414 over previous reporting day)
- Relationship between testing growth and case growth remains about the same. (increase in cases is 7% over prior week, total tests increased by 7.8% over previous week)
- 7-day positivity rate is 4.9%
- In Minnesota, 1,779 cumulative deaths (up 8 deaths over previous reporting day) – New deaths all age 60 and older.
- Hospitalized in MN as of today: 312 (+2 net over prior day); Hospitalized in MN ICUs as of today: 137 (+2 over yesterday)
- Announcing new diagnostic tool in Minnesota: saliva tests
- Saliva tests expected to double its coronavirus testing capacity. (Current capacity is 22,000 diagnostic COVID-19 tests each day)
- State partnering with Vault Health, nation’s leader on saliva testing, and Rutgers University to build new lab in Oakdale, Minn.
- This lab will be capable of processing as many as 30,000 samples per day. The contractors expect to have the lab up and running by early October.
- “This new lab is good news for our COVID response because it will significantly expand, but also importantly diversify our testing capacity for our state.” “It’s a great step forward for our overall COVID-19 strategy.”
- The contract with Vault Health is $14.66 million. Partnership includes Rutgers University’s RUCDR Infinite Biologics, which received first FDA Emergency Use-approved saliva test. The funding is provided by the state’s federal CARES Act funding.
- Vault Health provides logistics and telehealth services necessary to carry out the test.
- In some cases, saliva tests can be done at home.
- This saliva test reduces the need for swabs and PPE. Will also help with supply-chain issues from current diagnostic tests.
- Goal of saliva tests is to expand its testing to communities that haven’t been able to access tests in the past
- “It will allow us to offer more testing for more priority groups,” said Malcolm.
- This includes people who’ve had close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19.
- Will also allow state to do more community testing.
- Malcolm believes the expanded testing capacity can help prevent future outbreaks.
- “With schools set to resume soon, we also know we will need significantly more testing capacity to support schools,” she said.
- “We absolutely expect to see an increase in respiratory illnesses when school resumes,” said Malcolm. “That is an annual fact of life,” noting it’s not just COVID-19 illnesses. “It’s going to be important to be able to quickly distinguish common cold and other typical seasonal illnesses from COVID-19.” Families need to know quickly whether to isolate for 14 days.
- New lab also expected to create 250 new jobs
- “We’ve come a really long way in building up our testing system,” said Malcolm thanks to state partnerships, which includes Mayo Clinic and University of Minnesota.
- “Testing alone does not suppress COVID-19,” said Malcolm, who adds that masking and social distancing remains vitally important.
How Minnesotans Can Access the Saliva Test:
- People will eventually be able to access the saliva test in several different ways,” said Malcolm.
- State will set up 10 semi-permanent collection sites around the state
- State and other partners will offer saliva test at mobile testing events (like state has been doing with our community testing events) Saliva test is self collected so requires much less PPE than nasal swab.
- Vault Health will offer logistic and telehealth services to enable people to collect sample at home. (NOTE: Mail-in parameters not yet set up). Person will be able to receive a testing kit by UPS. Preservative in kit keeps sample good for up to two weeks without refrigeration. Results sent by email within 48 hours or so.
MDH Director of Infectious Disease and Epidemiology Kris Ehresmann:
- As of today, at 35 cases of COVID-19 related to Sturgis, S.D, motorcycle rally. (this is an increase of 8 from yesterday).
- 2 employee/volunteers and 33 attendees (34 households – there are 2 cases in one household).
- Only 1 person hospitalized so far; that person was released
Q&A Session and Notes:
- MDH working with Vikings on plan for fans? (NOTE: Vikings announced no fans for first two games). Malcolm: There is a multi-agency effort to work with large venues. “More and more teams are making that decision out of caution,” said Malcolm.
- What would it take for fans to attend games in person again? Malcolm: The degree of community spread. “The virus is more transmissable in crowded gatherings,” said Malcolm. Need to achieve critical social distancing. Also need to see lower testing positivity rate.
- “Our priority right now is insuring that kids can safely attend school,” added Ehresmann. “That is another consideration in all the conversations.”
- Any COVID-19 cases connected to St. Paul Saints baseball attendance at CHS Field? Ehresmann: No, not aware of any.
- Still seeing shortages with nasal testing? Malcolm: “We do continue to hear daily reports,” from health systems for example, saying their supplies are as such that they need to preserve their capacity for high priority clinical needs. Long turnaround times from national labs – a week or more – show importance of another testing option like the saliva tests.
- Back to Sturgis, individuals should self-isolate for 14 days after returning from the event that ended Sunday, Aug. 16. “We will continue to see cases,” added to the total, including secondary transmission – people who traveled to Sturgis, got COVID-19, and spread to someone else.
- Why so confident in accuracy of this particular saliva test? Malcolm: a lot of tests out there that vary widely in accuracy. “This one has very high ratings.” It’s the first one to get FDA Emergency Use authorization.
- Nasopharyngeal testing considered gold standard in testing for respiratory illness, but a lot of data supports this particular saliva test as well, said Ehresmann.
- “It does take a fair amount of saliva,” she added.
- “It will be important to figure out the best test for the best purposes,” said Ehresmann.
- Who will get saliva tests first? Malcolm: Teachers would certainly be a priority population.
- Home collection timeline for saliva test? Malcolm: Vault uses it already, just figuring it out currently in Minnesota.