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Visitors welcome: Minnesota eases visitation rules at long-term care facilities

The new guidance only restricts visitors for residents in certain situations.

People living in long-term care facilities can have visitors indoors at any time, with some exceptions.

That's according to new guidance released by the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) on Thursday, a day after the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated its guidance for nursing homes and other shared living care facilities, allowing for "responsible" indoor visits. 

This new guidance only restricts visitation in the following situations: for unvaccinated residents if the county positivity rate is above 10% and fewer than 70% of residents in the facility are vaccinated; if a resident has a confirmed COVID-19 infection; and if a resident is in quarantine. 

Health officials do say compassionate care visits are allowed at any time — even if they're unvaccinated, there's an outbreak, or the local COVID-19 positivity rate is high. (Compassionate care visits include visits for a resident whose health has declined sharply or who is experiencing a "significant" change in circumstances, CMS says.)

This comes as 70% of people 65 and older in Minnesota have received at least one dose of the COVID vaccine. A majority of Minnesotans who have died from COVID-19 were residents of long-term care facilities, so they were prioritized first for the vaccine. 

Nursing homes and long-term care facilities were locked down early on in the pandemic due to outbreaks among residents and staff.

In July, after four months of isolation, state health officials loosened visitor restrictions at long-term care facilities to allow a designated "essential caregiver" to visit. Then in October, they lifted the indoor visitor ban at long-term care facilities. 

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And while many facilities have been "open" to some visitors these past few months, the new guidance loosens restrictions further to allow numerous visitors. 

However, Patti Cullen, the president and CEO of Care Providers of Minnesota, which represents many long-term care facilities in the state, told MPR News the guidance doesn't give facilities and families "the big step we wanted, which was, if our residents are vaccinated, and their families are vaccinated, they should be able to go out together, go to dinner together, go visit for Easter dinner."

The CDC this week did issue guidance that said people who are vaccinated can spend time indoors unvaccinated members of a single household, meaning grandparents can hug their grandkids for the first time in nearly a year

March 13 (Saturday) marks the one-year anniversary of Gov. Tim Walz declaring a peacetime state of emergency to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

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