COVID-19 Daily Briefing: Long-term care COVID-19 deaths continue to climb

Minnesota Health Department leaders say they’re working on a new plan to address the rising number of COVID-19 deaths among long-term care residents in the state.

On Wednesday, the state reported that 24 of 30 new COVID-19 deaths were people from long-term care facilities (LTC). Overall, 391 of 485 deaths in Minnesota among from LTC facilities, or 81%. It’s the highest rate in the nation and Minnesota Health (MDH) Commissioner Jan Malcolm isn’t sure why.

"We think it’s quite possible that many of the states are only reporting nursing home or skilled nursing facilitiy data," Malcolm said on the daily statewide briefing. "We have a much broader inclusion of what we consider to be long-term care, assisted living facilities, group homes, adult foster care, mental health and substance abuse treatment centers and the like. So, I really do not think we’re looking at apples-to-apples comparisons when we’re looking at Minnesota data versus other states. That said, that is no way meaning to suggest that we don’t think this is a serious issue and serious opportunity for improvement."

Also Wednesday, the health department told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS 337 of 1,405 people who’ve been hospitalized with COVID-19 are from LTC, or about 24%. Among those who’ve needed treatment in Intensive Care Units, 107 of 488 came from LTC, or about 22%.

However, MDH said they haven’t yet determined the living situation of 343 COVID-19 patients prior to hospitilization so the LTC numbers could be higher.

Infectious Disease Director Kris Ehresmann said most of the hospitilized LTC patients who recover from COVID-19 are returned to their facilities once they’re no longer considered contagious. She said the state is considered opening a intermediary facility where they could go instead to reduce the risk of spreading the disease.

COVID-19 cases in Minnesota

Also Wednesday, the Minnesota Department of Health reported 728 new positive COVID-19 cases along with the 30 new deaths. The new numbers bring the state’s totals to 8,579 cases and 485 deaths.

MDH reports 728 new COVID-19 cases and 30 deaths, marking new single-day high for both

Malcolm said seven people who died were in their 90s, 15 in their 80s, six in their 70s, one in his/her/their 60s and one in his/her/their 50s.

Malcolm mentioned there are more tests being done, as well as increased testing in communities with significant outbreaks, which adds context to the increases in state virus numbers.

Meanwhile, MDH Infectious Disease Division Director Kris Ehresmann said cases associated with processing plants and manufacturing facilities are part of the increase as well.

Personal protective equipment in Minnesota

The current ‘stay at home’ order has been influential in the ability to gather millions of pieces of personal protective equipment (PPE), Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Administration Alice Robert-Davis said Wednesday.

Roberts-Davis, who has worked to source PPE for the state and has helped to set up a critical care supplies warehouse for additional PPE, said the usage rates currently allow Minnesota to have a one- to three-month supply of PPE on hand. However, Roberts-Davis said the "burn rate" of that equipment will increase as the virus peak nears.

"The situation today is still fluid, it’s still a very competitive marketplace we continue to see spikes in pricing for goods and freight costs are volatile but we have gained a tiny bit of breathing room to monitor those changes and make decisions based on cost and risk at this point," Roberts-Davis said.

According to Roberts-Davis, in the past 10 days, statewide facilities—not including long-term care facilities—are using an average of 9,000 face shields per day as well as 93,000 masks, 11,000 N95 respirator masks, 877,000 gloves and 37,000 gowns.

Roberts-Davis said the warehouse is averaging about 30 to 40 shipments per day to various care providers throughout the state.

Contact tracing and COVID-19 at long-term care facilities

Malcolm said the number of those needed to help conduct contract tracing has increased from prior estimates, which is partially due to a better understanding of asymptomatic spread as well as state employer interest in increased testing.

Ehresmann said an investigation into how an individual might have spread the virus is conducted within 24 hours of the initial virus report, adding that those investigations are thorough.

Ehresmann also said Wednesday there has not been a specifically homogenous testing atmosphere across the state, explaining that testing efforts have recently been prioritized for environments of people that are known to have complications as a result of COVID-19—at long-term care facilities, for example.

"We have been selectively, if you will, testing in the most vulnerable populations and as a result of that selective testing … that is going to have an impact on outcomes," Ehresmann said. "If we had had the ability to test everyone in a population across the age range, we would have a much better picture of true rates."

When asked whether state officials might consider a COVID-19 initiative focused solely on long-term care facilities, Malcolm said the state is testing aggressively in those facilities and using that data to create an assessment for Gov. Tim Walz. That assessment, Malcolm said, is currently in the works and could inform future care and policy decisions.