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Minnesota plans sharp boost in coronavirus testing capacity

MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota plans to more than double its coronavirus testing capacity by partnering with a national distributor of a rapid saliva test and establishing a new lab to process the results, the governor’s office announced Tuesday.

The state is finalizing a $14.7 million deal with Rutgers University-based RUCDR Infinite Biologics, which offers the country’s first saliva COVID-19 test, and Vault Health, which will help carry out the tests.

State officials hope to have the new lab up and running in the St. Paul suburb of Oakdale by October. The state is using federal funds.

The lab will add 30,000 daily tests to the state’s current testing capacity of 20,000 per day. The state averages about 14,000 test results each day.

“This means more options for Minnesotans looking to get tested, and more diverse capabilities in terms of our overall strategy should we ever run into supply shortages or other hurdles down the road,” Gov. Tim Walz said in a statement.

Saliva tests are already used by professional sports teams and other organizations, but there have been some reports of false-positive results. The traditional molecular testing Minnesota has been using since March also has limitations. But the governor’s statement said the higher test capacity — combined with masks, social distancing and isolation when appropriate — will help Minnesota get closer to suppressing COVID-19.

“And with school reopening in coming weeks, we will see an even greater demand for testing,” Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said in the statement.

Also Tuesday, the Minnesota Department of Health reported eight new COVID-19 deaths to raise the state’s total to 1,779. The department also reported 414 new confirmed cases for a total of 70,707.

The seven-day rolling average of the positivity rate in Minnesota has decreased slightly over the past two weeks and stood at 6.76% as of Monday. The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases also has been edging downward. But the state’s seven-day rolling average of daily deaths has risen over the past two weeks from 6.43 on Aug. 10 to 8.43 on Monday.

The data also showed that 312 patients were hospitalized, including 137 in intensive care. Daily tallies for hospitalized and ICU patients have been relatively steady in recent weeks and remain well below the peaks experienced in late May.