MDH COVID-19 briefing: New guidance for long-term care facilities, state positivity rate still climbing

Monday, Minnesota health officials provided the latest update on the COVID-19 situation in the state.

Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) Commissioner Jan Malcolm, Lindsey Krueger, the director of MDH Office of Health Facility Complaints, Minnesota Deputy Ombudsman for Long-Term Care Aisha Elmquist talked about new guidance for the state’s long-term care facilities issued Monday.

Melanie Van Wyhe, of Stillwater, whose mother, Margaret, is a long-term care resident, also joined the call. Van Whye compared long-term care facilities during the pandemic to prisons because of the lockdowns and the lack of visitors. Van Wyhe thanked MDH for listening to patients and their families.

Krueger noted that calls had increased from families worried about the mental and social well-being of their loved ones in long-term care facilities.

Elmquist said health officials expect allowing some visitors in a safe manner to have a positive impact on patients, noting that they’ve seen firsthand the impact social isolation can have. "We simply can’t keep loved ones in isolation with no end in sight," Elmquist said.

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Visitor restrictions have been in place since March at Minnesota’s long-term care facilities. However, due to impacts on patients’ social well-being, MDH said beginning Aug. 29, facilities can use a cautious approach to determine the most appropriate visitation policy. The new guidance says the primary consideration for facility visitation decisions should be whether there has been exposure in the facility from a COVID-19 case in a resident, staff or visiting service provider within the past 28 days, which is two incubation cycles. MDH said, as of Monday, about 90% of Minnesota’s long-term care facilities haven’t had a case in the past 28 days.

MDH also said visitors can help identify potential maltreatment or abuse of residents, noting that maltreatment reports have dropped by 20% since March.

MDH said facilities will need to have testing plans with baseline facility-wide testing, depending on facility type. Nursing home residents, for instance, are at a higher risk of COVID-19, so they’d need to conduct facility-wide testing. No facility will have to increase visitations, however.

"We will be dealing with COVID-19 for a long time, and it is important to find a way to allow residents to interact with their loved ones safely," Commissioner Malcolm said. "Residents have been isolated for months, and that presents significant risks for their emotional and social well-being. This guidance helps facilities keep their COVID-19 guard up while taking cautious steps toward ensuring residents have more social connections and interaction."

Two other notes from Monday’s call:

  • In the past week, testing in Minnesota has increased 9.5% while new cases grew 8.8% over that same time. However, the seven-day rolling average positivity rate has climbed to 5.4%, up 0.2% from last Monday.
  • The median age of COVID-19 patients in the state remains at 36 years old.

3 new COVID-19 deaths, 625 new cases, MDH reports