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Some COVID-19 tests to be processed at St. Luke’s, Essentia

If done in-house, results can be available in a few hours.

This is a picture of CDC’s laboratory test kit for the 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV). (Submitted / Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

Both St. Luke’s and Essentia in Duluth soon will be able to process their own tests for COVID-19, hospital officials said, saving days in the amount of time from the test to a result.

But the capacity at both hospitals will be limited, they said, meaning the majority of tests still will be sent to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester for evaluation.

Kevin Nokels, CEO of St. Luke’s, said some of the hospital’s $3 million grant from the Minnesota Department of Health that was announced Wednesday is being used to purchase an analyzer and test kits that are expected to arrive this month.

“This will bring our turnaround time from what now can be a few days to a few hours,” Nokels said.

Dr. Rajesh Prabhu, infectious-disease specialist at Essentia, said in a news conference Thursday that the health system’s campuses in Duluth, Brainerd and Fargo will have local testing capability by the end of this week. But the number of tests that can be conducted locally will be limited, he said.


“We will be relying on Mayo Clinic, which is our reference lab, to send probably the majority of our tests in the near term,” Prabhu said.

The same will be true for St. Luke’s, said Dr. Andrew Thompson, an infectious-disease specialist there. The hospital will be able to rapidly process some tests within the next two days, he said at the news conference. But again, the number handled locally will be limited.

Wherever processed, the tests are not infallible.

“Usually, these are very sensitive,” Thompson said. “If the virus is there, it will detect it. But a lot depends on how good the sample is. So if we get a good sample from a patient, I’m highly confident. That said, no test is perfect, and it’s possible to have a false test, either way, positive or negative.”

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