Pop-up state COVID-19 testing sites are closing in St. Paul on Thursday and Minneapolis and Bloomington on Friday amid continued declines in pandemic activity.
While the closures take away some convenient options in the Twin Cities, state health officials said the sites had become redundant given the low rate of people seeking tests and the high number of clinics and medical facilities with testing capacity.
More than 10 million COVID-19 tests have been performed in Minnesota, but the usage rate has declined from 433 tests per 10,000 residents at the peak of the spring pandemic wave on April 15 to 152 on June 14.
"The sites are able to close as we make more progress on vaccines, see a steady decline in COVID-19 testing volumes, positivity rates and cases, and with free COVID-19 tests readily available at many local pharmacies," said Nick Kimball, a spokesman for the state's COVID-19 response — noting drive-through testing at chain pharmacies such as CVS and Walgreens.
The positivity rate of the diagnostic tests in Minnesota has declined as well — even though fewer tests have been performed — from 7.5% on April 8 to a low in the pandemic of 1.3%.
Minnesota on Wednesday reported five more COVID-19 deaths and 84 infections with the coronavirus that causes the respiratory disease, raising the state's pandemic totals to 7,555 deaths and 604,758 known infections. COVID-19 hospitalizations in Minnesota declined to 113 on Tuesday, down from 699 on April 14.
COVID-19 testing remains free for recipients in Minnesota, regardless of the sites people use. While testing will cease at the Minneapolis Convention Center and Roy Wilkins Auditorium in St. Paul this week, it will continue in Brooklyn Park and other state pop-up sites. The Worthington site was shut down in May because of declining demand.
State-run vaccination sites, including at Roy Wilkins, will be unaffected.
Gov. Tim Walz appeared at Allianz Field before the Minnesota United game on Wednesday to highlight a temporary vaccination site outside the stadium and to encourage more people to receive their shots.
"This is the atmosphere everybody wanted," Walz said before the game, recognized as the state's first full-capacity sporting event since the pandemic began. "This is the joy that everybody was trying to get to and this is what the vaccine did."
While more than 3 million people have received at least first doses of COVID-19 vaccine in Minnesota, the state is on track to fall just short of its goal of providing vaccine to 70% of eligible people 16 and older by July 1. The rate now is 66.4%.
Vaccine eligibility was expanded to people ages 12-15 in mid-May after Minnesota set that goal. As with other groups, initial interest surged. More than 25% of Minnesotans in that age group had received vaccine within days of becoming eligible. However, interest has leveled off as only 35% of that age group — 101,274 people — have received shots.
"Talk to your neighbors, talk to your friends and family, let them know now these are safe vaccines," Walz said. "We're still losing a handful of people every day and every one of them are unvaccinated. The vaccine and the data behind it is, it's almost as close as you can get to 100% that they would not die from COVID if they had been vaccinated."
Testing capacity was limited when the pandemic emerged in 2020, but Minnesota stabilized its supplies last fall through a deal with Vault Health, which provided saliva testing kits and operated the state pop-up sites. Vault also sends mail-in test kits to people who request them. The $15 million deal also included the opening of a processing facility in Oakdale by Infinity Biologix of New Jersey to expedite the turnaround time for saliva tests in Minnesota.
The median delay from specimen collection to testing in Minnesota increased to more than two days in late November, when the severe fall COVID-19 wave peaked and testing activity surged, according to Minnesota Department of Health data. However, that rate has been at or below a single day since the beginning of 2021 and has fallen to less than half a day this summer.
Staff writer Stephen Montemayor contributed to this report.
Jeremy Olson • 612-673-7744