The Minnesota Health Department on Thursday announced the start of a COVID-19 Test at Home saliva program.

The free tests are now available to residents in 24 counties or tribal nations, including Cook, Aitkin, Crow Wing, Itasca and Beltrami counties and Red Lake Nation in northern Minnesota.

“Minnesota’s testing strategy includes having multiple options for people seeking out testing,” Minnesota Health Department Commissioner Jan Malcolm said in a statement Thursday. “Having more options helps to remove barriers, ensuring all Minnesotans have access to quick and reliable testing. The continued increase in COVID-19 cases across Greater Minnesota, tied to small, everyday gatherings, is very concerning. Testing is one way we slow the spread of COVID-19, and the mail order program provides yet another method for Minnesotans to access testing.”

Health officials said they selected the counties and tribal nations that “do not currently have a saliva testing location or where community testing events have been limited.” They expect the pilot will expand statewide in the near future.

Minnesota has four saliva testing sites open, in Duluth, Winona, Moorhead, and Brooklyn Park, with Mankato scheduled to open Friday and up to five more to follow in coming weeks.

Last month, the state announced a pilot saliva testing site at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center in Duluth--the first of its kind in Minnesota. The site has since been offering saliva tests to anyone who believes they need to be tested.

Regarding the new pilot, people can order a saliva test online to get shipped to their home. They perform the test by spitting into a small tube, under the supervision of a health care professional through a video telehealth visit. Once completed, they ship the test to the state’s new saliva lab in Oakdale, Minn., where results are then emailed to the person within 24-48 hours.

“The saliva testing program has made our testing strategy more resilient by offering a convenient method that further reduces the risk of exposure to COVID-19,” said Dan Huff, MDH assistant commissioner for health protection. “We’re eager to make the Test at Home program available - the pilot will provide important information for how the program will work not just in our more populated areas, but more remote locations as well. We’ll use that information to make necessary adjustments before making the program available to all Minnesotans statewide, as soon as possible.”

Testing remains free to all Minnesotans, including those who do not have symptoms, state officials said. People will be asked for their insurance so the state can bill the insurance company. If someone does not have insurance or insurance does not cover some of all of the cost, the state covers the difference.

For more information on the COVID-19 Test at Home program, and to order a test, please visit COVID-19 Test at Home. For information about the site in Duluth, visit www.health.state.mn.us/diseases/coronavirus/testsites/saliva.html.

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