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Minnesota reopens free testing sites as delta variant surges

August 31, 2021 GMT

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Minnesota officials are reopening four free coronavirus testing sites this week as circulation of the highly contagious delta variant renews demand for testing.

The reopened sites include the Roy Wilkins Auditorium in St. Paul and a former Department of Motor Vehicles building in Bloomington, augmenting existing metro area sites in Brooklyn Park and at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. Outside of the metro area, locations in St. Cloud and Mankato are expected to resume testing this week.

All community testing locations statewide will not offer testing on Labor Day.

The increase in testing locations comes as virus cases continue to grow across the state and hospitals near full capacity, with both intensive care unit beds and overall hospital beds more than 90% occupied.

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St. Louis County health officials and healthcare workers said Tuesday that hospitalizations and deaths due to COVID-19 are surging in the region — the vast majority in unvaccinated people. The number of patients in intensive care at St. Mary’s hospital in Duluth has doubled in the past two weeks, and 10 more patients were admitted to intensive care units across all Essentia Health facilities on Tuesday, said Andrea Boehland, an emergency department doctor with Essentia Health.

Boehland said the strain in capacity is coinciding with a time of year when the number of patients seeking treatment for ailments unrelated to the virus is high. Staffing constraints due to exhaustion and difficulty find travelling healthcare workers who had helped during surges earlier in the pandemic are creating further challenges.

“What we’re experiencing this time around is that people are our hospital systems’ most valuable resource — not hospital beds, not ventilators, but people,” she said. “We have a moral obligation for all of our patients. This sense of duty is what leads us to share this situation with you and to ask for your help.”

The healthcare workers listed vaccination and masking in public settings as the most effective ways to limit transmission and reduce the strain on healthcare systems.