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In ‘breakthrough’ announcement, Minn. unveils major COVID-19 testing effort

Minnesota will soon be able to test tens of thousands of people a day for COVID-19 and evidence of coronavirus antibodies.

Gov. Tim Walz announced Wednesday a joint effort by Mayo Clinic and the University of Minnesota to rapidly increase the state’s testing capacity to be able to test 20,000 Minnesotans per day.

Walz called the development a massive breakthrough in the state’s effort to control the spread of the disease and slowly reopen the economy.

“The increase in testing and tracing will improve our control of the pandemic and help us think about those strategies to start reopening our society,” he said.

The plan includes expanding hospital lab capacity, resolving supply-chain issues for lab supplies and reducing cost barriers.

The governor said the plan will make Minnesota a national leader in COVID-19 testing, but he cautioned that it was not a panacea.

“This is not a pass that everything is back to normal and it’s all easy from here on out. It’s one tool in the toolbox that leads us in that direction,” Walz said, stressing the need to continue social distancing and some other response measures.

Walz has said that a massive increase in testing — both tests that diagnose people who have the virus and tests that determine whether someone has developed antibodies to fight the virus — is necessary to restart parts of the economy.

The governor has previously called for the state to complete at least 5,000 tests daily, although the state is testing only about a quarter of that goal currently.

University of Minnesota experts last week said that with $20 million in state funding, they could soon begin testing up to 10,000 people per day for the coronavirus.

While it’s not clear where funding to boost testing will come from, Walz has $124 million left in a state COVID-19 fund that could provide financial support to make testing more widely available and faster.

The state is also stepping up its isolation and quarantine capacity, to boost disease investigation — and to try to slow down spread of the virus that has killed 179 people, a third of them in the last week.