Efforts to combat COVID-19 continue in state

Efforts to combat COVID-19 continue in state

Minnesota’s ongoing efforts to counter COVID-19 continue. As case numbers and variants change, state leaders urge Minnesotans with disabilities to be mindful of available resources. 

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) considered all of Minnesota to be at low risk for the spread of COVID-19 as the month of April ended. That is in contrast to reaching higher case rates in mid-January. Still. it’s not a time to be complacent. 

“Testing for COVID-19 is still incredibly important for Minnesotans,” said Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan. That’s true even as the number of cases of illness declines. Flanagan has been reaching out to let Minnesotans know about available resources. 

The availability of at-home testing and changing case rates means that some test sites have closed or changed hours. People can opt for free rapid tests, which can be ordered online at https://mn.gov/covid19/get-tested/at-home/index.jsp 

For help with tests or to ask questions, call the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH)  hotline 1-833-431-2053 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday. 

At-home testing helps determine a person’s risk for spreading COVID-19. The nasal swab test can produce results in about 15 minutes. Each household can receive two test kits for four tests total.  

The at-home rapid antigen tests can be used at any time, such as if someone has symptoms of COVID-19, was exposed to someone who has COVID-19, or before an indoor gathering. 

The tests available for order are rapid antigen at-home tests, not PCR. They work whether or not a person is up-to-date on vaccines. 

People should also ask if tests are available at food banks and other community-based organizations. Flanagan said the state website provides additional information on tests, masks and the pandemic itself. 

State and local response to the pandemic continues to evolve with conditions, Flanagan said. “We are certainly tracking new variants.” 

The difference between now and the pandemic’s start in 2020 is that health officials know much more about COVID-19 than they did at the start of the pandemic, she said. State leaders want Minnesotans who haven’t been vaccinated to get vaccines, and to get booster shots as needed. Second boosters are available for people 50 and older, have weakened immune systems or various disabilities, or who received only the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Many health officials consider Johnson & Johnson to be less effective. Anyone with questions should ask their health care provider. 

As May began, most communities had dropped masking requirements. One debate at the federal level was whether masking should continue on buses, trains and planes. Flanagan said people who wish to can and should continue to mask up. 

The pandemic continues to be a very fluid situation, said Flanagan, and state officials will closely track conditions. In late April infections had climbed again to more than 1,000 reported infections in one day. One wrinkle is that the state numbers don’t include the growing use of at-home tests. 

But with many more immunized people, the hope is that immunity levels will limit the number and severity of cases. 

But state and federal risk levels should be watched closely as they can change quickly. Variants, such as the omicron variant that emerged in January and caused a spike in cases, should be monitored. So should rates of reinfections as immunity can wane over time. 

A BA.2 coronavirus subvariant is cited for a small but steady increase in COVID-19 activity in April. 

“It’s tempting for folks to say, the virus is no longer with us, but that’s not the case,” said Flanagan. It’s important  remain vigilant and watch for changing conditions. 

Almost 12,500 Minnesotans have died due to COVID-19. 

Resources are available to track the virus and get help. One is https://www.health.state.mn.us/diseases/coronavirus/situation.html 

Another is https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/about-vaccines/index.html?s_cid=10493:covid%20vaccine:sem.ga:p:RG:GM:gen:PTN:FY21