CHISHOLM — Alida Casey, a fifth-generation pharmacist, has been working extra hours at Casey Drug in an effort to provide community members with rapid COVID-19 antigen tests. Several hours each day, she throws on her coat, walks outside of the storefront on Lake Street and braves the cold to administer tests to patients parked in their vehicles.
“I hope we can help bring our cases down,” Casey told the Mesabi Tribune earlier this week. “People have the opportunity to get tested quickly. This can potentially save lives.”
Established in 1905, the long-standing Casey Drug is now the first known pharmacy on the Iron Range to offer rapid testing to the general public. Hospitals and clinics throughout St. Louis County and Minnesota have been providing tests to at-risk populations including health care workers and older adults. The Bois Forte Band of Chippewa has also been giving rapid testing.
In Chisholm, staff pharmacists and registered nurses will administer the nasal-swab antigen tests to patients ages 6 and older. The pharmacy provides written results in 10 to 15 minutes.
“Antigen tests work best for people experiencing symptoms of COVID-19,” Casey wrote in an email to the Mesabi Tribune on Tuesday. “For those without symptoms but known exposure, testing is most accurate after a full five days from exposure.”
For patients seeking test results for travel or to shorten quarantine time, particularly those at high risk of transmitting COVID-19, such as health care workers, PCR testing may be necessary, she continued. It is advised that patients check with work, daycare or school to determine which type of test is needed.
Casey Drug is also offering rapid testing for COVID-19 antibodies, which are made by the immune system after an infection. Staff will take a blood sample to walk-in patients by a finger prick and provide results within 15 minutes.
About 25 miles eastbound, Jon’s Drug in Eveleth has also been providing patients with rapid testing for antibodies.
Jon Marcaccini, the owner and pharmacist on Grant Avenue, told the Mesabi Tribune that staff performs a finger prick on patients to check blood for antibodies which may mean they had a past infection with the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
“The test tells you if you still have a to COVID-19,” he said. “It only tells you in that moment in time. You may have had COVID earlier and may not have antibody. It’s a 15-minute stop at the drug store.”
Casey explained that patients could pay for rapid antibodies ($45) and COVID-19 tests ($95). Staff will give them invoices to seek possible reimbursements from insurance companies.
At the start of the pandemic's arrival in Minnesota in March 2020, tests were in short supply and limited. It took one week or more to receive results. The state and St. Louis County have since been able to erect testing sites — temporary and permanent — in various locations across the Range including at the National Guard Armory in Hibbing.
In Chisholm, Casey estimated that her staff could administer either rapid COVID-19 or antibodies tests to several hundred patients every week.
The creation of new testing sites and rapid testing opportunities comes as the state has been distributing its first rounds of COVID-19 vaccinations. Regional pharmacists say they are in the process of obtaining vaccines. Meanwhile, state and county health officials have maintained their recommendations that people wear masks, social distance and seek testing if they feel ill.
Casey, a 36-year-old mother and wife, said administering the rapid tests has proved “a big undertaking,” but she expressed gratitude for the opportunity to do so in her hometown.
“For me, this is personal. We want to see less cases so we can reopen businesses and schools,” she continued. “I know all of our friends here in town and that’s who we are thinking about.”
“In the continuing battle against COVID-19, testing is recognized as a critical tool in our arsenal. Better access to testing and quicker results help slow spread from person to person,” Casey added in email. “The more quickly positive cases are recognized, the more quickly those people can isolate to avoid transmitting the virus to other people, and the more quickly state health agencies can begin contact tracing.”
Chisholm Mayor told the Mesabi Tribune that he was glad to learn there were rapid testing options in the neighborhood.
“It’s great to be able to get a little quicker feedback,” he said. “When you’re sick, you don’t want to go too far to start with.”
He added, “We’re trying to get a handle on this COVID, so everything helps.”