Remember when “you’ve been exposed” meant someone found out you messed up and the most you had to worry about was dying of embarrassment? Now when “you’ve been exposed” your life comes to a screeching halt and the worst-case scenario could be a battle with the deadly version of the Coronavirus.
As the case count in St. Louis County inches closer to 10,000, and new daily cases fall consistently between 250-320, the chance that you’ll be exposed to COVID-19 is increasing. If you are exposed, getting a test is the right thing to do.
St. Lukes’s, Essentia Health, and St. Louis County recently released a helpful infographic to help determine if you should be tested, and if and how long to quarantine.
Of course, you should be tested if you have any symptoms (cough, shortness of breath, fever, chills, headache, muscle pain, sore throat, or loss of sense of taste and smell). But you should also quarantine immediately and be tested one week after you’ve been exposed to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19.
There are quite a few testing sites in the region (Find them here: https://www.health.state.mn.us/diseases/coronavirus/testsites/index.html) but a recent need for a test due to close contact brought us to the DECC for the free saliva test.
In September, the Duluth Saliva Testing Center at the DECC was the first of 10 saliva testing centers in the state to open, funded with $14 million in federal CARES Act dollars. The saliva test is produced by Vault Health, a New Jersey Company that also handles the appointment scheduling, registration, and reporting through their website or via email.
The testing process was fast and easy, a great option for anyone, but especially for children. While you don’t need an appointment you can make one online here: https://mncovidtestingappt.as.me/schedule.php
The testing site is now open 7 days a week, from noon to 7 PM. We made an appointment for Noon, thinking we would avoid a crowd, being the first appointment of the day – turns out about 70 other people had the same idea. When we arrived at the DECC about 10 minutes before noon the line to enter the building stretched nearly to the parking attendant. What seemed like a dismal situation, ended up being no big deal. The DECC recently moved the testing to Pioneer Hall and was able to create space for people to wait in line in the building. Once the doors opened, the line moved inside very quickly. There was signage to let you know what to expect and National Guard Personnel helping manage the area.
Upon entering we had to remove the mask you wore there and replace it with a new, clean, disposable mask. We were asked to sanitize our hands at a sanitizing station. As the line quickly moved forward, signs on the wall instructed us to start the registration process at covid.vlt.co using a smartphone. The entire testing process is smartphone-driven, if you do not have a smartphone, they will provide you one for the testing process.
After a short wait in line we came to a fork where people with appointments went one way and those without went another. Nearly everyone in line with us went into the “I have an appointment” line, but that didn’t seem to slow anything down.
Once we walked into the expansive Pioneer Hall, a pair of folks at a tall table called us one-by-one to receive the testing kit and assign us to a table. They had 35 individual tables with space for two people to test at each table and a half dozen “family tables” where they could send people that arrived as a group. Overall, they could accommodate over 70 people testing at one time.
Once we got to our table, we finished the registration on our phone. You’re asked to do several things that take a bit of tech-savvy, so if you have an elderly relative, disabled person, or child that needs a test you’ll want to have someone accompany them to help with this part of the test. You’ll be asked to take a photo of your driver’s license, health insurance card (if you have one), and scan the barcode on your kit’s test tube. Once you get through these steps the Vault Health website will also walk you through the different steps of the test.
You’ll need to fill the small test tube with 2mm of saliva using a small funnel attached to the top. It’s quite a bit of spit, so while you can’t eat, drink, or even chew gum for 30 minutes before the test, you should make sure you get enough to drink before that timeframe. It also helps to think about your favorite meals or treats to get the salvia flowing.
Once the tube is filled to the line, you’ll need to carefully remove the funnel and screw on a plastic cap filled with blue liquid. The liquid is a preservative that keeps your saliva stable during transport to maintain accurate test results. The cap can be hard to get on completely, but you’ll need to screw it down tight enough that a seal is broken releasing the blue preservative into the test tube. Once the blue liquid is in the test tube you’ll shake the test for 5 seconds and then you’re done. The website instructions tell you to put the test in the bag in your testing kit, however, the kits they are using do not have bags, instead, you’ll turn in your tube to a person near the exit.
Although all the individual tables were filled while we were there, throughout the testing process we felt safe. There was ample room between tables, and several testing staff walking around ready to answer questions or help when needed. After we left the table, staff swooped in to quickly disinfect it. We were back in our vehicle at 12:20. The entire process taking less than 20 minutes.
The hardest part of any experience like this is waiting for your results, luckily we didn’t have to wait long. At around 10:30 PM that evening we received an email that our specimens had been received for processing, and just before noon the next day, we received an email with our results – which were, thankfully, negative. Less than 24 hours total for testing and results – absolutely amazing.
Our region is lucky to have been the first to have access to a facility like this, and we appreciate all who have made it happen, especially the DECC staff and National Guard that keep it moving so smoothly.
If you find yourself in need of a test, we highly recommend the free DECC saliva testing facility. It’s a relief to know there is an easy and safe way to help keep our families and communities safe when a COVID exposure or COVID symptoms pop up. Take advantage of this incredible service and do your part in slowing the spread of the Coronavirus.