The Minnesota Department of Health on Tuesday opened a new clinic in St. Paul to provide a promising outpatient treatment for COVID-19 to patients who otherwise might struggle to find it in the metro.
State officials said all treatment slots were full on the first day of operations at the new mobile clinic near Interstate 35E and Arlington Avenue W.
Patients with mild to moderate symptoms that started within the past 10 days are eligible for the treatment, which consists of monoclonal antibodies administered through an IV infusion. The treatment is limited to patients at high risk for serious COVID-19 illness.
"This clinic will strengthen the existing capacity of providers in the Twin Cities to give this lifesaving treatment," Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said in a statement.
Monoclonal antibodies were part of former President Donald Trump's treatment regimen when he had COVID-19.
Since the antibody treatment became available in Minnesota in late 2020, health care providers in the seven-county metro area have provided a disproportionately small share of the statewide total — less than 10% of the doses administered.
Over the past six weeks, the shortfall has been felt more widely as demand for the antibodies has skyrocketed. Some in the metro have been traveling up to 138 miles one way for treatment, prompting health officials to worry that others are opting to go without treatment altogether.
While the Twin Cities in recent weeks has seen a shortage of appointment slots for the treatment, the state has maintained a healthy supply of the antibodies. They're provided by the federal government, which has agreements to spend more than $8 billion for approximately 4 million doses, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
To operate the new infusion center, the state Health Department hired Matrix Medical Network, an Arizona-based company that runs workplace and mobile health clinics and provides telehealth services. The contract runs through the end of the calendar year with the clinic providing from 168 to 210 treatments per week.
The contract with Matrix calls for spending up to $550,000 a month, the state says, with those funds ultimately being reimbursable from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
"MDH will assess on an ongoing basis in consultation with our health care partners the need to continue to provide this additional treatment capacity," the Health Department said in a statement.
Health systems in the metro have been opening more appointment slots to provide treatments over the past two months, but they say staffing shortages have limited their ability to expand capacity. In August, Bloomington-based HealthPartners started offering the treatment for the first time, delivering the treatment through multiple injections per patient rather than an infusion.
"Currently, we're treating more than 70 patients a week with monoclonal antibodies and will continue to look for ways to increase capacity," a HealthPartners spokesman said last month.
The Health Department says patients and their health care providers seeking monoclonal antibody treatments can make an appointment at the new clinic and other locations through an online tool called the Minnesota Resource Allocation Platform, or MNRAP.
The state created the website for scheduling to provide equitable access to monoclonal treatments, which were expected to be in short supply when they were first introduced. Patients or their caregivers can use the website to find out if they qualify for treatment as well as find the nearest site with an available appointment.
More Minnesotans have been hunting for monoclonal antibodies with the ongoing statewide surge in COVID-19 cases that started in midsummer. Health care providers across Minnesota provided just 23 treatments during the last week of June, but 1,464 total treatments during the fourth week of September.
Christopher Snowbeck • 612-673-4744