COVID testing draws hundreds
So far Lori and Al Lysne’s family have not contracted the coronavirus, but the Blooming Prairie couple wasn’t taking any chances as they joined hundreds in getting tested for COVID-19 last week in Owatonna.
Even though the Lysnes haven’t shown any symptoms, they still decided to come out. “You don’t know if you’re around someone who is asymptomatic,” said Lori as she waited in line to get tested. “It’s easy, like nothing. It’s a swap up the nose,” she said, adding “it’s not the brain tickler.”
The free tests were offered Nov. 9-10 at the National Guard Armory in Owatonna as members of the National Guard conducted nasal swap tests. A steady stream of people came in to take the test, which lasted less than 10 minutes.
“We’re trying to catch those with no symptoms that are positive,” said Amy Caron, director for Steele County Public Health. “We hope to reduce the spread so we can do the contact trace and get them into quarantine,” she added.
Caron couldn’t have asked for better timing with the testing event as COVID-19 cases have been exploding in Steele County over the past few weeks. On the day testing began, Caron learned that Steele County had 165 new corona cases within the previous week, a record for the county since the pandemic began in March. The county was on pace to set yet another record last week.
The testing events come as Minnesota Governor Tim Walz has directed increased testing all across Minnesota. There have been previous events in Waseca, Northfield and Faribault. Earlier this month during a testing event in Little Falls, one out of 10 people came back positive for COVID-19, Caron said.
Owatonna expected to test around 1,200 people. The final numbers from last week’s event were not available when this edition went to press. However, Caron expects a high positivity rate around 15% in the county. “The positivity rate will point to give us a clue as to how much community spread is out there,” she said.
Caron is proud of the people who came out to get tested. Despite the negative comments surrounding COVID and its impact on society, she said the event was “refreshing, motivating and very uplifting,” in the midst of the worst health crisis in more than a century. “This is a positive that our residents do care and think beyond themselves,” she commented. “They don’t want to spread it to others.”
The overall goal of the testing event, Caron said, is to identify who has COVID so that Public Health can gain insight into where people are picking up the virus through case investigations that typically happen after someone tests positive. “If we can connect it to some place, we would know what restrictions to put in place,” she said. “We also want to be able to get close contacts in quarantine as quickly as possible so we don’t have a ripple effect,” she added.
Caron said Steele County’s public health system is currently in an emergency crisis. “Our system has been overloaded for about 1½ weeks,” she said.
Public Health usually reaches out to every positive case to do trace investigations and offer advice. But with record numbers coming in every week, the health agency is not able to keep up with the cases and contact people in a timely manner. “We are doing the best that we can, but our staff is overwhelmed,” Caron said. “It will take us some time to reach people.”
She offers this advice: “If you come out positive, do 10 days of isolation even if you don’t get a phone call from us.”
Staff members have been putting in extra hours as no staff has been added since the pandemic began. Caron is worried about what the extra burden the crisis is creating.
“I’m very worried about staff burnout,” she said.
As for the communitywide testing event, Caron was responsible for bringing it to Owatonna. Steele County was not initially chosen for the event, but Caron did some advocating starting back in late September to get the testing event in Owatonna.
“I didn’t give up,” Caron said. “I always advocate for the little guy. I have a real passion for working in rural Minnesota.”
For Lori and Al Lysne, they were going to have to wait two or three days before learning if they tested positive. They recommend others to get tested. “It’s a no brainer to do it,” Lori says.