Faribault Armory COVID testing

Members of the Minnesota National Guard administered health screening questionnaires on Memorial Day outside the Faribault Armory for free COVID-19 testing. The Faribault Armory was one of six throughout the state that partook in the free testing initiative over the holiday weekend, collecting a combined total of more than 9,000 samples in the three days. (Annie Granlund/People’s Press)

A total of 1,401 COVID-19 tests were administered at the Minnesota National Guard Armory in Faribault over the Memorial Day weekend, helping hit Gov. Tim Walz’s goal of 2,000 tests a day statewide.

Testings sites were set up Saturday in St. Paul, Minneapolis, Duluth, Moorhead, St. James and Faribault, and tested anyone — whether or not they were symptomatic or insured — for COVID-19 through Monday. The walk-up testing was open to anyone, but those who had symptoms or had been in contact with a confirmed COVID-19 case were especially encouraged to get tested.

All six sites were set up at National Guard armories.

Outside the armory in Faribault, members of the National Guard performed health screening questionnaires throughout the weekend as people arrived for the testing by the carload. The site administered 336 tests on Saturday, 491 on Sunday, and 574 tests on Monday.

“The event was managed by the National Guard, and Rice County Public Health staff were present and assisted with greeting and registration at the Faribault site,” said Deb Purfeerst, Rice County Public Health director. “It was well attended by local residents and people from surrounding areas.”

At the Minneapolis location, there was a line when testing started Saturday morning with wait times estimated at 2 to 3 hours. National Guard officials reported later Saturday that wait times had decreased.

“We are glad to see” the strong turnout, state Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said at a Saturday afternoon news conference. “I know that people are waiting in lines and there’s an awful lot of demand there — and we’re learning a lot from today’s events that will help us to be even better at getting testing out into the community.”

Purfeerst said that those who presented or reported symptoms were administered the tests in a drive-thru fashion so that they did not have to leave their vehicle and risk additional exposure to others. Those without symptoms were able to go inside the armory for their tests and everyone was required to wear a mask and adhere to social distancing measures.

“Attendees were appreciative of the opportunity for free testing,” Purfeerst said of the Faribault testing site. “It was run well.”

Purfeerst said that the testing sites were strategically located throughout the state to allow widespread access for Minnesotans geographically.

“We are fortunate in the Rice County area that we do have a number of local providers offering ongoing testing,” Purfeerst said. “But it was an additional opportunity for those wishing to be tested at this type of an event.”

The total number of tests administered throughout the state over the three-day weekend was 9,871 — with Memorial Day being the busiest day at all six locations. This more than exceeded the hope from the governor’s office that 6,000 tests would be administered over the weekend.

“Testing, tracing and isolating are the best tools we have to understand the impact of the pandemic on our communities and to contain it, so we can continue safely navigating this pandemic,” Walz said. “I am grateful that the Minnesota National Guard is helping with this important effort.”

Minnesota Public Radio News staff contributed to this report. Reach Reporter Annie Granlund at 507-444-2378 or follow her on Twitter @OPPAnnie. ©Copyright 2020 APG Media of Southern Minnesota.

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