Laboratory Disease Spotlight - Infectious Disease Laboratory - Minnesota Dept of Health

Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Laboratory Guidance

Updated October 2020

For lab specific questions or to check on specimen status call the Infectious Disease Laboratory at: 651-201-4242


  • COVID-19 Submission Form This new form includes the required questions from HHS and CDC so this is the only form required to submit to IDL.

  • Testing and Results

  • Due to reagent availability, daily specimen counts, there are multiple assays that might be used for COVID-19 samples.
  • MDH IDL will determine which assay is used for SARS-CoV-2 testing.
  • The CDC Influenza SARS-CoV-2 (Flu SC2) Multiplex Assay is a real-time reverse-transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) test that detects and differentiates RNA from SARS-CoV-2, influenza A virus, and influenza B virus in upper or lower respiratory specimens. The assay provides a sensitive, nucleic-acid-based diagnostic tool for evaluation of specimens from patients in the acute phase of infection. Serves as a single test which gives a result for three viruses: SARS-CoV-2, influenza A, and/or influenza B
  • ThermoFisher TaqPath COVID-19 Combo Kit is a RT-PCR test that detects RNA from SARS-CoV-2.
  • Serology testing will be available by prior authorization only.


Additional Information

CDC Direction for Interim Laboratory Biosafety Guidelines for handling and processing specimens associated with Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)

Specimen Collection


Upper respiratory tract specimens

  • Nasopharyngeal (NP) swab
  • Oropharyngeal (OP) swab
  • Nasal mid-turbinate (NMT) swab, using a flocked tapered swab
  • Anterior nares specimen, using a flocked or spun polyester swab
  • Nasopharyngeal (NP) AND oropharyngeal swabs (OP). Put both swabs in the same container.

Lower respiratory tract specimens should be collected only if clinically indicated

  • Sputum for those patients with productive coughs. Do not induce sputum. Sputum should be collected into a dry, sterile container. Do not add viral transport media.
  • Bronchoalveolar lavage samples and tracheal aspirates should be collected and tested as a lower respiratory tract specimen for patients on mechanical ventilation. Collect 2-3 mL into a sterile leak proof container.

No Blood or Serum specimens will be accepted.

Only one specimen per patient will be tested. If more than one sample is received, the most preferable specimen will be tested.


  • Any synthetic swab (i.e. nylon, Dacron) with a plastic or wire shaft is acceptable.
  • Additional swab types deemed acceptable by the FDA:

  • E-swab by Copan, Opti-Swab by Puritan
  • See this link for additional swab types approved by the FDA:
    FAQs on Diagnostic Testing for SARS-CoV-2

Swabs with cotton tips and/or wooden handles are NOT acceptable.



  • Viral transport medium (VTM), M4, M5, Hanks, Universal transport media (UTM), Amies transport media, or sterile saline. Please ensure that the vial has enough media (minimum 500µL) for the swab to stay wet and keep the virus viable during transport.


Store and send at 2-8° C.

If it will be longer than 72 hours between specimen collection and arrival at MDH, freeze the specimen at -70° C and ship on dry ice. The specimen must arrive to MDH frozen, or it will be rejected.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I send MDH a specimen that has been used for other testing (i.e. Cepheid Flu or RSV)?

  • Yes, as long as the swab has been placed in viral transport media, and there is enough media left (500μL) for the swab to stay wet and keep the virus viable during transport.

What is your turnaround time?

  • As volumes have increased dramatically, and most testing supplies are in short supply nationally, turnaround time is TBD. We are testing as quickly as we can.

How will I receive my results?

  • Results will be faxed to the number MDH has on file.

Shipping Samples to the Infectious Disease Lab

Use your regular courier service, FedEx, or UPS. To set up a UPS CampusShip account with MDH contact: Cammie Wadman Baca at the Infectious Disease Lab. For more information: Shipping Samples to the Infectious Disease Lab

Infectious Disease Laboratory Contact Information

Infectious Disease Laboratory Contact Information

Updated Monday, 26-Oct-2020 09:11:26 CDT