The Minnesota Department of Health has issued updated guidance that should allow more people to pay visits to care home residents, provided the homes take certain precautions.
The department issued the latest guidance on Monday, saying that from Aug. 29 long-term care facilities will be able to expand their visitation policies provided they meet criteria set out by the state.
This could pave the way for visits beyond essential caregivers and healthcare providers, allowing family members to visit for the first time since the pandemic started in a setting other than outdoors.
The extent to which care homes can open for visitors from family members will depend on a number of factors, the most crucial of which is whether there has been a COVID-19 exposure at the facility in a resident, staff member, or visiting service provider in the past 28 days.
Also taken into consideration is the number of COVID-19 cases in the surrounding community, and the number of staff which are working at other long-term care homes, which raises the risk of them bringing it from one facility to another.
If, for example, the 14-day positive case rate in the wider community is greater than 10 per 10,000 residents, the county should be considered to be at an "elevated risk of disease transmission" and care homes should reconsider opening up.
Facilities should also have a robust testing policy in place, with facility-wide testing required for nursing homes, where residents are at higher risk of dying from COVID-19, and recommended in assisted living facilities.
Long-term care settings have borne the brunt of the pandemic, as the Walz Administration initially struggling with the surge of COVID-19 cases and outbreaks within congregate care settings. As of Monday, residents account for 1,250 of the state's total 1,660 COVID-19 deaths.
But the rate of deaths have slowed in long-term care facilities over the past two months, and restrictions have slowly been loosened to allow for outside visits, and then for a resident to name an "essential caregiver" – which can be a family member – who can visit them inside their facility.
The MDH notes that as well as visits vital for the emotional and mental wellbeing of long-term care residents, it's also important to help identify incidents of neglect or abuse, with the MDH noting reports of maltreatment have dropped 20% since March compared to last year.
"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,” Health Commissioner Jan 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.”