The majority of nursing homes in the state do not currently have identified cases of COVID-19, with Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) Commissioner Jan Malcolm claiming that the proactive measures to slow the virus' spread has made outbreaks the exception rather than the norm at long-term care facilities.
She shared this news at a news conference Tuesday with Gov. Tim Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan, where they discussed the progress that has been made to limit and stop the spread of the novel coronavirus in long-term care facilities.
In May, the governor announced a five-point battle to fight COVID-19 in these facilities, including expanding testing within facilities and supplying staff with needed personal protective equipment. At that time, more than 80 percent of the state's coronavirus deaths were in long-term care facilities.
“With an aggressive multi-pronged strategy, this battle plan is helping ensure Minnesota’s long-term care facilities are more resilient and better prepared to contain the spread of COVID-19,” Gov. Walz said in a statement.
"We’ve made progress, but there’s still more work to do. Together with our partners in congregate care settings, we must continue to take action to protect our most vulnerable Minnesotans as this pandemic continues.”
State data shows residents of long-term care facilities continue to make up the majority of COVID-19 deaths in Minnesota (about 77 percent), but long-term care deaths are trending downward, which the states says was the result of efforts to contain the spread of the virus within the facilities, such as enhanced testing and providing adequate PPE supplies for staff.
Nonetheless Walz said that deaths could have been mitigated further and earlier had there been a national strategy in place for PPE and other tools.
As of July 21, half of the state's 368 nursing homes and 77 percent of the state's 1,692 assisted living facilities have never reported a case of COVID-19, the release said.
The growth in the number of facilities with a new outbreak (one case or more) has slowed "significantly," the state says. In early May, an average of 23 new facilities reported an outbreak per day, but the week of July 13, there was an average of six new facilities per day.
The number of deaths has also "sharply declined," from May 17-23, there were 137 coronavirus deaths in these facilities. From July 12-17, there were 13 deaths.
Malcolm says that Minnesota's death numbers in care settings compared to neighboring states is because Minnesota has a broader definition of congregate care facilities more broadly, as opposed to the skilled nursing facility data that is used in states.
“COVID-19 is still part of our lives, and there will continue to be cases, including in long-term care facilities,” Malcolm said in a statement. “But we’ve made progress. We’re better positioned to limit the spread of COVID-19 and continue to improve every day. Moving forward, we will continue focusing on infection prevention to stop the start of outbreaks and to ensure one case in a facility doesn’t end up being a major outbreak.”
The state had been criticized for how it has handled limiting the spread of COVID-19 at long-term care facilities, with criticisms ranging from taking action too late to allowing recovering patients who were released from the hospital to return to their facility – which it says it did with the encouragement of the CDC.
Others also criticized the state's decision to limit visitors to long-term care facilities, which was hurting some residents emotionally due to social isolation.
On July 10, the state released updated guidance that allows for expanded access to people who can visit residents of long-term care facilities.