health tips

COVID-19 Testing in Rural Minnesota

This fall I’ve been dealing on and off with a scratchy throat and cough. Naturally, with those being symptoms of COVID-19, the first thought upon developing them was that I was sick with Covid and I should get tested. The Minnesota Department of Health encourages testing regardless of how severe your symptoms are because even those not displaying symptoms can spread the disease and testing is the primary way they can properly track it.

When the cough and scratchy throat first hit in early September, I looked online to find a local testing site. The information I found indicated our local hospital was the only one in Morrison County offering testing, but you had to have a referral and they were limiting who could get tested. Because testing appeared to be an insurmountable chore, I didn’t follow up at that time. Because my symptoms were mild (no fever or aches or loss of smell or breathing troubles), my husband suspected seasonal allergies. I was recently diagnosed with an allergy to oak trees and the oaks in our yard (9 of them!) were shedding like mad at the time. Another possibility was smoke from the wild fires in California and other western states.

Weeks of this mild cough went by and a couple of weeks ago I developed body aches and extreme fatigue. No fever, but the cough was worse and I had a little trouble catching my breath. It was time to get serious about testing.

Once again, I went online to find testing information, this time visiting the Minnesota Department of Health’s website to find testing facilities. Our local hospital was listed, but it appeared there weren’t as many restrictions as before.

I tried calling and was immediately transferred to the local clinic. Why would the MDH’s website list the hospital if the local clinic was actually doing the testing?

The person who answered at the clinic didn’t seem particularly interested in what I had to say and put me on hold. Maybe she was overwhelmed, but after being on hold for some time and feeling frustrated with her response, I called my main clinic located about a half-hour away. They cheerfully answered the phone (they always do!) and transferred me to St. Cloud Hospital, which transferred me to CentraCare’s Covid line. I was put on hold, but the message let me know right away that they were experiencing a large number of calls. It’s a little thing in terms of programming a hold message, but it’s huge in terms of letting those waiting know that CentraCare values a caller’s time. After waiting a few minutes on hold, I was given the option to leave my number for a call back. Yay! Another win for the CentraCare Covid system!

A scheduler called me back not too long after this and immediately got me scheduled for a test. We also asked if Hubby should be tested because we’re in the same household. She said yes and got him scheduled, too. She was very forthcoming about the fact that they really don’t know when someone presents with a cough and sore throat, which are common to so many diseases, what they’re dealing with until they test for Covid. She made us feel that it was no bother at all, even though we weren’t massively ill.

Within an hour-and-a-half, we got dressed, hopped in the car, and drove to the CentraCare Covid testing site in the St. Cloud area and had our throats swabbed. I was expecting a nasal swab and gagged on the swab because I wasn’t prepared. In a very Minnesota twist, the Covid testers were working out of a fish house. (In case you haven’t kept up with ice fishing trends, ice fishing houses are now often tricked out trailers you can pull onto the ice, rather than rickety little shacks. It was one of these trailers they were using.)

Both the scheduler who set up our tests and the Covid testers provided us with information on quarantining, how long it would take to get results, and what to do if we tested positive or negative. We were told to expect results within 4-7 days, but the results were returned faster than that and we noted that they were processed by the Mayo Clinic, which is considered a gold standard in medical care in Minnesota.

While we waited for test results, we hunkered down, which wasn’t too much different from what we’ve already been doing, except that we did have to order groceries online and use contact-less pickup.

Thankfully, our test results were negative, but there’s been an uptick in cases in our area so that was no guarantee. While it took a while to figure out the process to finding a test, I’m happy to say that it was much smoother than I expected. We Central Minnesotans now have easy access to Covid testing that wasn’t available earlier in the pandemic.

If you are at all worried that your symptoms are Covid, check out the Minnesota Department of Health’s website and find a testing location. Be persistent.

Also, if you are concerned about the cost of care should you need hospitalization from Covid, there is a program to cover that. Let your loved ones know about it so they can speak up on your behalf should you be unable to.