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Walz, state leaders discuss progress on combating COVID-19 in long-term care facilities

Ben Rodgers & Tommy Wiita
Updated: July 21, 2020 06:23 PM
Created: July 21, 2020 02:29 PM

Tuesday, Gov. Tim Walz announced progress on the state's approach to combatting the spread of COVID-19 in long-term care facilities.

Walz and state health officials originally introduced the five-point plan back in May. Walz started the press conference on Tuesday, stating the progress they have made is an update, "not a victory lap."

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According to state data, as of Tuesday, 1,189 of 1,548 COVID-19 deaths that have occurred in the state happened in long-term care or assisted living facilities.

"With an aggressive multi-pronged strategy, this battle plan is helping ensure Minnesota's long-term care facilities are more resilient and better prepared to contain the spread of COVID-19," Walz said in a statement Tuesday. "We've made progress, but there's still more work to do. Together with our partners in congregate care settings, we must continue to take action to protect our most vulnerable Minnesotans as this pandemic continues."

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Regarding COVID-19 in the state, Walz said testing capacity is doing well, the positivity rate continues to climb but remains around 5%. The governor said, "the numbers are curving in the right direction."

Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan said seniors, specifically long-term care center residents, have been impacted severely by COVID-19.

Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said the department has assisted more than 930 long-term care facilities on infection control, amongst other things, within the past year. In May, they stepped up their support in that sector with the five-point plan to help those centers and residents. Since then, Malcolm said they've made progress and learned some very difficult lessons. Malcolm added that as of Tuesday, a "clear majority" of long-term care centers and nursing homes have no clear cases of COVID-19. Outbreaks have become the exception rather than the norm. In May, cases averaged per day in these facilities was at about 23. As of Tuesday, that number is down to six.

"Even one preventable death from COVID-19 is too many," Malcolm said, adding that deaths have plummeted in the state as well.

Malcolm explained the reason for deaths going down is only due to modest gains percentage-wise in deaths in long-term care facilities but they're doing much better on infection control and doing things like cohorting positive residents, and stopping congregating activities such as eating in a group setting, which is a big loss socially but helps stop spread and changes the trajectory.

The multifaceted plan included developing criteria to requesting testing service, implementing a Nurse Triage Line, developing a system to distribute personal protective equipment to needed facilities, using scheduling software systems to connect facilities with staffing needs to available providers and working with state, federal and private partners to improve areas of testing, staffing and PPE distribution.

According to the state, as of Monday, half of the state's 368 nursing homes have yet to report a case, and only 24% of Minnesota nursing homes currently have an outbreak. Meanwhile, 77% of the state's 1,692 nursing homes have never reported a case, and only 8% currently have an active outbreak.

"COVID-19 is still part of our lives, and there will continue to be cases, including in long-term care facilities," Malcolm said. "But we've made progress. We're better positioned to limit the spread of COVID-19 and continue to improve every day. Moving forward, we will continue focusing on infection prevention to stop the start of outbreaks and to ensure one case in a facility doesn't end up being a major outbreak."

Malcom said MDH feels far more prepared and ready to keep meeting the challenges moving forward with the setup they now have in place. Minnesota Department of Health Regulation Director Michelle Larson added that they've had a lot of great cooperation and partnerships from other agencies and departments. She highlighted local and regional health partners' cooperation and help for getting to this point.

"We cannot declare victory on this pandemic yet," Larson cautioned.

Walz said a lot of blame should be on the national strategy for where the current situation resides in the country. Specifically speaking on supplies, Walz says the state is at a point once again where stocking up on supplies and having them readily available is difficult. He noted 3M can't keep up in production, equipment is being redirected from states, each state is scrambling to do their own things and supply shortages put a strain on every state.

"We can blame the 50 governors and 50 departments of health, who are all dealing with the same things, or we can look at needing a national strategy," said Walz, noting past administrations have done so.

You can watch the full press conference below.


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