I’m a little surprised: Minnesota is the best state for coronavirus testing. There are good reasons for that.
Minnesota isn’t the biggest state or the wealthiest. But it has a progressive governor, a budget surplus that’s allowed it to supplement federal funding and spend about $150 million on testing so far, and a well-functioning pandemic task force. It’s home to the Mayo Clinic and the University of Minnesota, one of the nation’s best public research institutions. All those advantages may explain why it’s one of the few states to implement a testing strategy that the federal government should have adopted, one that helped Hong Kong, South Korea, and Taiwan avoid the worst of the pandemic’s ruin, and that doesn’t require dramatic scientific advances or carry any potential health risks. “I love what Minnesota is doing,” says Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health. “We need a lot more of that.”
One of the points the article makes is that this is also a long term investment opportunity. The state made a deal with a biotech company to put together a testing center, which is going to be a part of a biotech hub with the equipment and trained employees left behind after the pandemic is over. This is something I wish more people would recognize: building an infrastructure to deal with the current crisis gives you the tools to fight other problems. This is true of global climate change — building alternative energy sources isn’t just an expense right now, it’s an opportunity for the future.
The state leased the space for the lab and paid for the equipment—$4.7 million in total. Infinity BiologiX set it up in eight weeks. When the day comes that Minnesota no longer needs it, Infinity BiologiX will keep the equipment—the Chemagic 360 machines named Shelly, Randy, Timmy, and Jimmy, after characters from South Park; and the QuantStudio 5s named Morticia and Gomez, after The Addams Family. In the meantime, Minnesota receives discounted prices on the tests themselves and a promise from the companies to process as many as 30,000 a day and make results available within 48 hours after the samples arrive at the lab. Minnesota has set aside at least $30 million for the program. Feldman says Michigan, New Mexico, and Wyoming also want Infinity BiologiX labs, but this winter, with federal funding uncertain, they haven’t had the budget.
One more thing that explains our situation here in Morris — the big testing place here in town is the National Guard Armory, although you can also get tested at the local clinic. I thought it was weird to see the recommendations in the paper to go to the Armory for your medical test. It makes sense, though.
Minnesotans swarmed the 10 community testing sites as soon as they began saliva collection in late October, “tailgating for testing in the parking lot before we opened,” says Vadis. Vault brought in people from Walt Disney Co. with experience in line management. It trained members of the National Guard to oversee the collection process. Many of them are medical practitioners of some sort, says Feldman, though they don’t have to be. It takes about 30 minutes to learn how to supervise the spitting and package the specimen. There’s also cultural training. “We’re teaching the guards to be super approachable, so no one is intimidated,” Feldman says. Minnesota is home to sizable populations of Somalis and Hmong, and finding enough staff who can translate medical terms in their languages has proved challenging.
Also, otherwise my only association with the armory is that’s where the traveling circus is held when they come to town. The Armory has this cavernous huge space (I have no idea what it’s used for at other times) with bleachers where events like that can be held.