The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) is easing restrictions on visits to long-term care facilities, allowing residents to see loved ones inside and in-person for the first time in months.
When the pandemic hit in mid-March, residents of long-term care facilities weren't allowed to see visitors in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19. Only in mid-June did the state allow residents to visit with others outside.
But now, family members, outside caregivers, friends, volunteers or others who are deemed essential caregivers can meet with residents inside the facility, so long as they follow health and safety guidelines.
“While preventing the spread of COVID-19 among residents of long-term care facilities has been a top priority since the start of the pandemic, we all recognize how important it is to ensure that the social and emotional needs of residents continue to be met – especially in light of limitations on visits and other activities in these settings,” MDH Commissioner Jan Malcolm said in a news release.
“By rolling out this guidance for essential care providers, we are helping to build a more robust framework that providers can use to ensure that residents’ full range of needs are met," Malcolm added.
According to the new guidelines, providers must talk to residents about who they want to designate as an essential caregiver (they can have more than one). When an essential caregiver visits, they're required to sign in and be screened before entering the building, which is what facility staff has to do. During their visit, they're expected to wear eye protection and a face mask (and any other necessary personal protective equipment) and frequently wash their hands/use hand sanitizer.
The facility can revoke the caregiver status for anyone who doesn't follow the rules.
By July 25, facilities are instructed to come up with policies to identify and use essential caregivers. MDH said because COVID-19 is expected to be a concern for months to come, caregivers and facilities will have to work together to make sure infection control procedures are closely followed.
The health department developed this new guidance in partnership with Care Providers of Minnesota, LeadingAge Minnesota, the Office of Ombudsman for Long Term Care and other consumer advocate groups, many of whom had stressed the need for long-term care residents to socialize with loved ones.
“One of the most difficult things about COVID-19 for our residents has been the prolonged separation from families and loved ones,” Gayle Kvenvold, president and CEO of LeadingAge Minnesota, said. “With the virus still very much a threat in our communities, we can’t throw open wide our doors, but we can take this interim step of welcoming back designated family members and others to our caregiving teams. We remain vigilant in our infection control and prevention efforts and look forward to the day when more widely available testing and other tools can help us expand visitation even more.”
When COVID-19 reached Minnesota, long-term care facilities were impacted early on because the virus can spread easily in congregate living settings. Long-term care centers, especially those with older adults, were hit the hardest as the virus tends to make seniors more seriously ill than other populations.
As of Friday, there have been 1,495 deaths in Minnesota related to COVID-19, including 1,166 among residents of long-term care or assisted living facilities, MDH data show.
The third-most common way people who tested positive for COVID-19 were likely exposed was in a congregate living setting as a resident, staff or visitor, totaling 7,238 of the 40,767 lab-confirmed cases in the state.
The two top ways someone was likely exposed to the virus are community transfer (no known contact with a confirmed case), totaling 8,666 cases, and community transfer (known contact with a confirmed case), totaling 7,583 cases.
There are more than 5,000 cases where a likely exposure has not been listed.