Minnesota ending mail-in COVID testing, launches at-home rapid test program

Rapid covid tests
A BinaxNOW rapid antigen self test for COVID-19. Minnesota will start offering at-home rapid tests through the mail starting Tuesday.
Peter Cox | MPR News file

Updated: 4 p.m.

The state of Minnesota says it is “sunsetting” its longstanding mail-order COVID-19 lab test program through Vault Health this week, and will start offering at-home rapid tests through the mail starting Tuesday.

“Even as case numbers decline, it’s important that Minnesotans test for COVID-19 if they are feeling sick,” Gov. Tim Walz said in a statement about the program. “That’s why we’re continuing to work to make tests easily accessible — now and in the future.” 

He said the state has secured 500,000 rapid antigen test kits, with two tests in each kit. Starting Tuesday, Minnesotans can order two kits, for a total of four tests per household, through an online ordering system at mn.gov/covid19. The program will send them out until they are gone.

The state is offering the antigen tests as it says demand for the free Vault PCR tests, which had to be mailed back to a lab, has dropped from more than 16,600 a week in January, to about 1,400 last week.

The state said the antigen tests “provide more flexibility to Minnesota families who need to monitor COVID-19 symptoms. The tests can be done at home and results are delivered within minutes, with no lab delivery required.”

People who still have Vault PCR tests can use them up until their expiration date, or through the end of 2022, whichever is first. 

There are also a variety of other testing options. The federal government is still offering free rapid at-home antigen tests at CovidTests.gov, and a variety of community organizations have tests on hand. Health plans are required to cover the cost of over-the-counter test purchases, and the state is still operating nearly two dozen walk-in community testing sites, some with saliva tests, some with rapid tests and some with both. 

The change comes as the seven-day average of new cases in Minnesota has dropped by more than 60 percent in the last month, and by more than 95 percent since mid-January, when the average number of new cases reported each day reached a pandemic peak. As of last week, the daily average had dropped below 400 cases for the first time since last July.

Before you keep reading ...

MPR News is made by Members. Gifts from individuals fuel the programs that you and your neighbors rely on. Donate today to power news, analysis, and community conversations for all.