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As Demand For COVID Test Continues To Surge, State Vows To Announce 'More Options' This Week

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- State officials say they are looking at expanding test options in Minnesota as demand soars to record levels amid the spread of the infectious Omicron variant. 

Minnesotans seeking tests at state test sites over the last two weeks during the holiday season were met with long lines. Drug stores look like deserts for COVID tests, with some even displaying signs notifying customers that they're out of supply.  

For Jennifer Weingarth of Vadnais Heights, she put 100 miles on her car driving around the Twin Cities metro trying to find a rapid at-home COVID-19 test for her daughter who was showing symptoms. She says she scoured the internet to find any tips on where to go.  

"People are like posting like 'There's some right now in Woodbury,' so OK, I'm like jumping in my car and I'm driving to Woodbury, please have tests," said Weingarth. "It feels like it should be easier." 

In what feels like another roadblock, some Minnesotans got a message that "all available test kits have been shipped for today" when trying to order a free at-home test from Vault Health, the Minnesota Department of Health's partner for testing.  

Jason Feldman, CEO of Vault Health, said it sets a cap at 6,000 tests per day in a move designed to not overwhelm shipping suppliers, and make sure tests are being used. 

For the New Year's Eve weekend, the cap was at 1,500 tests each day, a spokeswoman later noted, because UPS was not shipping that day and the company wanted to avoid having a backlog of tests to ship today. 

"We're making sure that for the five-and-a-half-million residents of the state of Minnesota that there's enough testing available ongoing, and the caps are used to balance out how many tests per day could potentially be hoarded," he said in an interview.

The cap is only for at-home testing program. When the limit is reached, Minnesotans can still purchase a test for $90.

"We're having really record traffic," said Feldman of people visiting state community testing sites, where Minnesotans take saliva PCR lab tests. "We haven't seen this kind of traffic since last year around this time, and obviously we're trying to meet the demand." 

In a statement, a spokesman for the Minnesota Department of Health said the holiday closures and limited hours at state testing sites are contributing to the longer wait times for Minnesotans seeking testing. 

"We are seeing unprecedented demand for testing in Minnesota," he said. "We are assessing our testing network and plan to expand testing capacity and announce more options for Minnesotans this week." 

Vault Health says there has always been a cap on at-home tests, but reaching it has not been a problem. The company expects the cap will increase, but did not say when. 

Gov. Tim Walz last week announced he will use $2.5 million in federal COVID relief funds the state is authorized to spend to expand the state's COVID-19 testing infrastructure and get more at-home rapid tests.

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