Test, test and test some more. Officials in the Dakotas and Minnesota on Thursday, May 14, again emphasized testing to help stop the spread of the coronavirus.

Minnesota: Two days after reaching a long sought, single day milestone of 5,000 tests, the Minnesota Department of Health reported 6,717 people obtained diagnostic tests in a single day.

"Anyone who has symptoms of COVID-19 can and should be tested," said state health commissioner Jan Malcolm in a Thursday afternoon news conference. "If you're feeling symptomatic, if you have symptoms of respiratory illness or the symptoms we have outlined for COVID-19, please call your providers and see about getting a test."

North Dakota: Gov. Doug Burgum said the goal is to test 4,000 people per day by the end of the month.

In hard-hit Cass County, which includes Fargo, the goal is to test 1,000 people a day. “It is possible the numbers will rise in Cass County or remain at high levels, but if we are going to control the virus, we need to know where it is.”

Thursday included a mass testing event in Grand Forks, with 475 tests administered.

South Dakota: The state will be doing mass testing of nursing homes and assisted living residents, along with staff at the facilities, which totals about 7,400 tests in the first week, South Dakota Department of Labor Secretary Kim Malsam-Rysdon said.

“We’ll be administering thousands and thousands of tests,” Malsam-Rysdon said, noting that in the second week, more than 10,000 tests are expected to be administered.

The elderly have been the most likely to die from COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus and it has plagued senior living facilities.

Deaths, cases

The South Dakota Department of Health on Thursday reported four more deaths in Minnehaha County, which includes the city of Sioux Falls. A total of 43 people have died as a result of COVID-19 in South Dakota, according to state health officials.

North Dakota on Thursday reported no additional death. To date, 40 people have died in North Dakota from COVID-19.

The North Dakota Department of Health on Thursday reported 67 additional individuals who had tested positive for COVID-19. Cass County had the most positives at 57, followed by Grand Forks County that had six additional cases.

Minnesota on Thursday reported 25 deaths, lifting the state total to 663 deaths so far. Four-fifths of the deaths were among residents of long term care facilities. Minnesota on Thursday reported 523 new cases, with Rice County reporting 28 cases, Nobles County reporting 29 cases, and Stearns County reporting 49 cases.

Wisconsin stands at 423 deaths. The state added 373 cases Thursday.

Minnesota loosening up

The rise in testing and rapid case interviews is considered pivotal for loosening the mitigation orders that have been in effect within Minnesota since early March. On Wednesday night, Gov. Tim Walz said he would lift the stay at home order as scheduled on Monday, May 18, and allow small groups to gather with social distancing.

"The whole intention here is to carry out a gradual, targeted, careful reopening that is contingent on businesses using best practices," said Malcolm, "and for all of us to heed health guidance to not go out if we are ill, to limit travel, stay close to home, social distance and wear a mask."

"There is a need for vigilance among all of us in the new normal," Malcolm added. "This is not going back to the way things were before the pandemic. It's attempting to move towards more economic activity, with protected social interactions."

Should these warnings fail and the lifting of the stay at home order create a rapid spread of the illness, health officials have developed a contingency set of four statistical trip wires capable of alerting officials that outbreaks are occurring, said state epidemiologist Dr. Ruth Lynfield.

Specifically, the state will consider imposing new limits on activity if:

  • More than 15% of COVID-19 tests turn up positive over the course of seven days (the state is currently at 14%),

  • The state drops below an ability to process 5,000 COVID-19 tests a day (the state can now process nearly 7,800),

  • The state's total positive COVID-19 case number doubles every 5 days (that number currently doubles every 9.5 days), and

  • 30% or more of new cases are from unknown contacts. (With 36% of new cases having no known contact, the state is currently out of compliance with this benchmark.)

Plasma treatment

Also on Thursday, the Mayo Clinic reported that the international team testing convalescent plasma for the treatment of COVID-19 has released its first safety data on the treatment, and the results are promising.

A preprint publication (which has not been through peer review) reported that of 5,000 patients who received plasma between April 3 and May 3 less than 1% experienced serious adverse events within the first four hours after treatment. In another signal of safety, a 14.9% seven day mortality rate was deemed not excessive, given the serious condition of the patients receiving plasma treatment.

"This is just the beginning of the reporting process," says Dr. Michael Joyner., head of the EAP at Mayo Clinic in a statement. "We are optimistic but must remain objective as we assess increasing amounts of patient data."

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