Sept. 15 and 16 from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Winona State University held a free COVID-19 testing event for the community.
Winona State partnered with the Minnesota Department of Health and local public health officials for the testing.
The tests were funded by a Minnesota Department of Health initiative.
Anyone in the community could get tested, free of cost and no insurance needed.
Both preregistration and walk-ins were available for this event.
The event occurred during Winona State’s self-imposed 2-week campus quarantine, a strategy to slow the spread of COVID-19 on campus.
Health and Wellness Promotion Coordinator, Katie Jensen, said they had planned for 2,000 tests to be conducted.
“They planned to only do 2,000 over the two days and they were able to increase capacity to 2,600 tests since the first day went so well,” Jensen said.
Assistant Emergency Manager for Winona County Emergency Management, Violet De Stefano, said the testing was efficient.
“As of 4:40 PM on day 1, we conducted 940 tests. A lot of college students and community members have taken time out of their day to come and get tested,” De Stefano said. “On morning one, I went through the line as an unregistered participant and it was a total of 6 minutes from start to finish.”
Jensen said the results from the test came back much faster than what was predicted.
“I myself was able to get tested on Tuesday. I pre-registered, walked up to the testing tent when it was my time slot,” Jensen said. “I had to answer a few questions for symptom screening. Then they swab both nostrils for a few seconds, and then you’re on your way! My result came by text within 24 hours, which was so fast. They had been estimating 48+ hour turnaround time.”
Director of Health and Wellness Services, Connie Kamara, said that the Minnesota Department of Health is trying to get an accurate number of COVID cases through the free testing.
“They’re looking at our whole area. They’re looking at our county, they’re looking at our city. They’re looking at Winona State, at St. Mary’s,” Kamara said. “If we see this county rise, then we know that can affect the university. If the university rises, we know it can affect the city.”
De Stefano said the goal for the event was to get as many people in the community tested as possible.
“The overall goal is to help us detect the community spread of COVID-19. There was a large spread in the college-aged population, but we started to see more spread into the community,” De Stefano said. “As an Emergency Management team, we hope to identify the cases in the community and in turn, slow the spread of COVID-19.”
The event was communicated to Winona State students through email, phone call and texts, Jensen said.
“It’s really important to know your [COVID] status, especially in this time,” Jensen said.
There was more outreach done to inform the community of the event.
De Stefano said the county worked with partners among the community to inform the community.
“We worked really hard to communicate with our stakeholders in the community to reach our special populations, specifically our ethnic groups and harder to reach populations,” De Stefano said. “We put together posters, digital media and worked with local newspapers and media to get the word out.”
De Stefano said there was not a lot of time to plan the testing event.
“It can be difficult to plan an event of this capacity, especially in 6 days,” De Stefano said. “From start to finish, we were able to collaborate with our partners at the local level to spread the word as far and wide as possible.”
The university reached out to to inform parents, specifically of first year students, of the event.
Director of Web Communications for Winona State Mollee Sheehan said the university shared the event’s information with parents of first year students due to their concern of COVID-19 on campus.
“[The parents] were a group of people who really appreciated that information,” Sheehan said.
The community of Winona has been affected by COVID-19, especially with the rising case numbers among college-aged individuals.
University President, Scott Olson, said Winona State has an effect on the overall health of the community as a whole.
“What happens at Winona State can affect businesses in town, can affect the local schools; their ability to stay open and do what they do, can certainly affect our healthcare providers,” Olson said. “It’s magnified by the fact that we’re a much smaller town.”
Kamara said that supporting community members is important during this time.
“We’re all trying to figure it out together. No one has been through this before, no one has the answers,” Kamara said. “I think it’s really important for us to all be patient with one another, to support one another and listen to one another, and try to do the best we can together to stay strong.”
Olson said that having the opportunity to hold the free testing event at Winona State is sending an important message to the community.
“This is a beautiful community we share with a lot of folk; it’s our obligation at Winona State to be the best care takers we can of the place we live and the time we are here,” Olson said. “Having this free clinic in our parking lot is just one little way we’re trying to give back to the community, and say “Winona, you’re important to us, Winona, we care about you and we want you to come and get tested.””