UMN seeks $20 million from state to ramp up COVID-19 testing

The University’s proposal aims to increase testing capacity to 10,000 individuals a day.

The Minnesota State Capitol as seen on May 13, 2013.

Bridget Bennett, Daily File Photo

The Minnesota State Capitol as seen on May 13, 2013.

by Mohamed Ibrahim

The University of Minnesota is looking for support from the Legislature to dramatically increase coronavirus testing statewide.

Following the development of multiple COVID-19 tests by University researchers, the University released a proposal Thursday asking lawmakers for $20 million to ramp up testing capacity to 10,000 individuals a day. As testing remains a challenge for the state, the proposal aims to identify individuals who have contracted the virus and recovered. 

Healthcare officials from the University, the MDH, Mayo Clinic and Hennepin Healthcare joined the House health and human services committee as they convened remotely Thursday to provide updates and discuss challenges related to COVID-19 testing.

The Minnesota Department of Health and other laboratories have completed more than 43,000 tests statewide as of Thursday. Less than 2,000 tests are completed per day. 

“I think it’s fair to say that there has not been strong national coordination of supply production and distribution, which has meant that there is spotty availability of supplies across the United States,” Scott Beck, senior vice president of Mayo Clinic Laboratories, told lawmakers. “Most of the individual healthcare systems and governments have wound up having to compete with one another to access what supplies currently exist.”

In the last few weeks, University researchers have refined a blood test that detects antibodies to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, indicating past infection and recovery. University researchers have also developed a Polymerase Chain Reaction test to diagnose COVID-19 in patients without relying on testing supplies that may be scarce.

According to the proposal, the combination of results from the PCR and antibody tests can help determine if an individual can safely return to the workforce. A negative PCR test and positive antibody test would show that an individual recovered and may have developed immunity to the virus.

Gov. Tim Walz said on a press call Monday that Minnesota would need to boost testing to 5,000 per day to consider re-opening the state’s economy. The Mayo Clinic announced its own development of an antibody test earlier this week, which would be performed at an initial testing capacity of 8,000 per day.

“We can go at this and truly provide that testing in a widespread enough way so that we achieve the societal architecture that allows us to lift through this epidemic and flatten the curve in a way … that we can truly respond with vigor and direct action to this epidemic,” said Jakub Tolar, the University’s Medical School dean and vice president for clinical affairs, at the meeting.

As of Friday morning, the MDH has reported 2,071 laboratory-confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus and 111 deaths statewide. More than 670,000 cases have been reported in the U.S., with more than 30,000 deaths, according to a New York Times database.