Gov. Tim Walz has announced a five-point "battle plan" to reduce the deadly spread of COVID-19 in the state's long-term care facilities.
The virus has proven particularly dangerous to elderly populations and those with underlying health conditions, which is exacerbated by them living in close quarters.
Residents of long-term and assisted-living facilities comprise just 23 percent of the total number of people hospitalized by the coronavirus, but more than 80 percent of deaths, with 407 of the state's 508 deaths as of Wednesday coming from these settings.
In his Thursday press conference, Gov. Walz said that many facilities weren't prepared for the challenges presented of COVID-19, noting that "for many facilities the use of personal protective equipment and gloves ... was not the norm 30 days ago and they were not stocked up on it."
That said, Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said that Minnesota's long-term care death rate is significantly higher than neighboring states because Minnesota has prioritized testing in these settings, arguing that in other states care home residents have died before they could be tested, leading to a possible undercount.
With Walz now satisfied with the state's stockpile of PPE and hospital capacity, he says it's time to "go on the offensive" to aggressively reduce the spread of coronavirus in congregate care settings.
Among other things, this will include utilizing the state's PPE stockpile for use by long-term care centers – so they don't have to compete for supplies with other companies/authorities – boosting staffing numbers so that care of the vulnerable continues, and expanding testing so that infected residents are identified early, isolated, and their contacts traced.
What does the plan say?
The plan will be implemented in the coming days. Here's a look at it:
1. Expanded Testing for Residents and Workers
- Institute consistent “active screening” practices for residents and staff.
- Expand testing to all symptomatic residents & staff, as well as facility-wide testing when a case is confirmed or when multiple people develop symptoms.
- Continue routine testing of residents/staff meeting specific risk criteria.
- Expand work on facilities’ action plans for COVID-19 cases among residents or staff, including steps for dealing with multiple cases.
- Continue to ensure staff are trained on proper use of masks and other protective equipment.
2. Provide Testing Support and Troubleshooting
- Work with health systems to create "strike teams" that quickly conduct on-site testing and necessary follow up.
- Coordinate with regional health care coalitions for immediate response and resources.
- Ensuring testing supplies move efficiently where they are needed.
3. Get PPE to long-term care facilities
- Maintain state-managed stockpile of masks and other PPE for emergency use when a LTC facility exhausts its supplies and is unable to restock
- Push out needed equipment for facilities facing outbreaks, and make it available to other facilities based on availability.
4. Ensuring LTC facilities have adequate staff
- Using the emergency COVID-19 fund approved by the Legislature to get healthcare workers to provide temporary "bridge" staffing.
- Aggressively advocating for increased state and federal resources.
- Activating the Minnesota National Guard.
- Using databases to "call out" healthcare workers that can take on-call shifts.
- Using incentives to encourage health care systems to provide crisis staffing to facilities
5. Leverage partnerships
- Partner with local public health to coordinate support and provide on-site technical assistance for facilities.
- Launch a new case management model at facilities, using local and regional expertise to provide guidance, monitoring and support.
- Make sure that facilities maintain strong preparedness plans, including plans to reduce disease transmission and limit exposure risks.
- Require facility commitment to reduce transmission by excluding ill workers and those testing positive, and by excluding workers with unprotected exposure.