Minnesota's COVID-19 response was instrumental in the early months of the virus

Susie Jones reports in part one of a three-part series on Minnesota's critical role in facing the coronavirus pandemic
Mayo Clinic
Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN played a critical role in the early battle against the coronavirus pandemic Photo credit (Getty Images / JodiJacobson)

As we near the end of the year, News Talk 830 WCCO's Susie Jones takes a look at how Minnesota companies, both large and small have played a major role in the fight against the deadly virus.

As news of the deadly virus in Wuhan, China spread, doctors and researchers at Mayo Clinic in Rochester watched closely preparing for the inevitable arrival of the deadly illness. Time was of the essence trying to develop a test to detect COVID-19.

“Just in comparison, it typically takes our laboratories in the range of six to nine months to develop a new type of diagnostic test, and we did it in a span of three weeks,” according to Dr. Matt Binnicker who is the director of clinical virology at Mayo. He says that first test developed in March was just the start.

"We have teams that are working on novel vaccines for COVID-19, and I anticipate that those will be studied more, and may become options in the future,” Binnicker says. “To help kind of supplement all the different vaccine options that are becoming available.”

The Mayo has also played a vital role in the treatment of the virus, using antibodies to lessen the symptoms.

“So from the testing perspective, from the treatment perspective, and from the vaccine development angle, I think Mayo Clinic has been involved in all attributes of that and really helped kind of lead the way in terms of the Minnesota response, along with other partners around the state,” Binnicker tells Susie Jones. “Part of the remarkable COVID-19 response in Minnesota has been the cooperation that's taken place.  The Mayo, and the University of Minnesota, the state health department all working together to save lives.”

Dr. Jakub Tolar is Dean of the University of Minnesota Medical School, and he is also reflecting on those early days battling the virus.

“We were already aware off some of the challenges that we will be facing and that readiness, that ability to build a plan. A plan is insufficient, but the muscle that needs to come into the teams to be ready for this kind of a challenge.”

The challenges were and continue to be great. Doctor Tolar says not only were they involved in developing a test for the virus, they also had folks from different departments working together helped design a ventilator.

"And then, with the help off Medtronic, Boston Scientific and others, we're able to put together a very low key but very functional ventilator, then later called Coventor.”

Tolar says the design is being used in several countries around the world.

“It's unbelievable that we went from zero knowledge a year ago, zero knowledge about this virus, to vaccines.”

Tolar says it's been an incredible show of selflessness and sacrifice from thousands of people in the state, many working 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to get the work done in a race against time.

“It's a moral pursuit in search and quest of common good,” says Tolar.