COVID-19 Daily Briefing: State officials discuss plan for long-term care facilities as deaths surge

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During Minnesota’s regular COVID-19 daily briefing, health officials provided an update on the state’s plan to combat the spread of coronavirus in long-term care facilities. The number of deaths in long-term care facilities have continued to surge in the two weeks since the governor announced a five-point "battle plan" to reduce COVID-19 cases in nursing homes and assisted-living centers.

Since May 8, the day after the announcement of the plan, 229 more long-term care COVID-19 deaths have been reported. That’s 83 percent of the 275 deaths reported in the past two weeks. Overall, 82 percent of the state’s COVID-19 deaths are from long-term care.

Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said since the plan has been put in place, testing has occurred at 39 long-term care facilities. She added that 30 more facilities are scheduled for testing next week.

Providing proper personal protective equipment to long-term care facilities is still a top priority, according to the commissioner.

The state health department is also continuing to work on providing staffing where needed within long-term care facilities.

"We know the staffing challenges in our long-term care sector have been significant for a long time," Malcolm said. "This is truly a systemic issue that’s been building for years."

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Malcolm said a volunteer management system has been put into place to help connect health care workers with long-term care facilities that may be experiencing staffing shortages.

Malcolm also provided an update on where the state is at regarding testing. The commissioner said 6,200 tests were processed by labs in the state Wednesday, and that there has been an average of 6,400 tests being processed daily over the last week.

"It’s a significant improvement over the last couple of weeks, but not as fast of a growth that we are certainly aiming for," she said.

Kris Ehresmann, an infectious disease expert with MDH, also reminded school districts and the public of the importance of following the graduation guidelines issued by MDH and the Minnesota Department of Education.

"The safest way to observe graduation is for everyone to stay home," Ehresmann said. "Indoor graduations and ceremonies held at outside stadiums and football fields of any size are not considered safe and are not permitted."

She added that any districts considering car parades or parking lot ceremonies must have attendees stay in their cars.

Dr. Ruth Lynfield, with MDH, spoke briefly about serology testing that can be used to detect if people have antibodies to coronavirus.

Lynfield said MDH is looking at a number of studies that would incorporate serological testing to look at how much of the population has been exposed to the virus.

The health officials were also asked about the restrictions that have been put on places of worship.

"We completely understand the value and the strong desire for reconnection with our faith communities and on so many levels we’re hearing the frustration of people who feel as though our guidance is overreacting," Malcolm said.

Malcolm said MDH is continuing to reinforce that faith gatherings can pose special risks regarding community spread.

Malcolm said the department will continue to have discussions with different faith communities.

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