Other’s opinion: COVID-19: New round of testing will help state in virus defense

Published 6:30 am Saturday, September 19, 2020

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The Free Press, Mankato

A new round of widespread geographic testing, along with a survey of households in Minnesota, will provide critical information on the COVID-19 presence in Minnesota and offer a roadmap for solutions.

But reactions from obscure corners of thought on testing, some from political leaders, only serve to cast doubt on legitimate public health practices and unnecessarily sow fear in places where facts may be distant.

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Some reactions included worries that the survey workers going house to house could spread the virus, but that is extremely unlikely as they will be wearing masks, gowns and gloves and will change those frequently. They will also be identified with badges and cars marked indicating health department survey team.

Another concern involved funds given to take the survey that would amount to $20 per household. That is typical with this CDC-approved survey in order to provide incentive for people to volunteer.

The voluntary testing program will include a COVID-19 test to determine if a person has the infection and a serology test to determine if the person has antibodies that suggest they have already had COVID. The tests will be geographically dispersed to cover all regions of Minnesota.

Some on Twitter questioned the need for the survey and testing and others suggested a “big brother” government worry. But all the information collected will be private, and participants will be notified in a few days of the results of their test. Antibody tests that are positive will not be added to the total positive case numbers and will be counted separately.

Answers to the surveys and results of testing will be key to unlocking the mystery of how many asymptomatic people have the virus. That question so far has been difficult to discern. And the testing will allow that question to be answered for specific regions.

The surveys and testing will also show the amount of unknown community spread (such as going to a bar and getting COVID) for specific regions. That’s a key indicator for the need for more mitigation as unknown community spread rates above 30 percent of all cases suggest a growing threat of rapid virus spread. Currently, the number is only tracked for the state as a whole and is at 26 percent but has been rising.

As a result of the survey and tests, the health department can recommend specific strategies for COVID containment based on the region, the way in which the virus has spread and how many asymptomatic people have it. That’s an idea we have supported in the past to avoid one-size-fits-all methods and employ instead a targeted, data-based approach to COVID response depending on the region.

In fact, rural areas and smaller metro areas like Mankato will likely be well served by the result of the tests. We may have less of a problem here than elsewhere. And if we have more of a problem, we’ll have better information on what to do.

The Department of Health survey and testing, done by a medical professional, will expand the information we have about COVID-19 in Minnesota. That will lead to a more accurate picture of COVID cases in Minnesota and how they are spread and the risk of contracting it based on geography.

That can only enhance public health and public safety.