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Health officials: The 'flood wall is being breached' as COVID-19 reaches long-term care facilities

Gov. Tim Walz and state health officials were set to discuss the totals and efforts to protect long-term care residents Friday afternoon.

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ST. PAUL — State health and safety officials on Friday, Dec. 4, called on Minnesotans to heed guidelines aimed at preventing the spread of the coronavirus to help limit mounting cases and deaths in long-term care facilities.

Across the state, dozens of assisted living and nursing home facilities had faced staffing shortages as workers became infected in the community and, in some cases, carried the illness into long-term care settings. And to fill the gaps, volunteers and Minnesota National Guard members were tapped to fill hundreds of nursing shifts.

While the state has worked with facilities to build up testing and personal protective equipment as well as staffing resources, the demand could become too great if community spread continues and COVID-19 cases climb in the communities around the long-term care centers.

“Even the strongest flood walls aren’t sufficient if the waters rise high enough,” Malcolm said. “That flood wall is being breached.”

The Minnesota Department of Health on Friday reported 5,371 more Minnesotans had tested positive for the illness and 61 more had died from COVID-19 and its complications. In all, 3,845 people in Minnesota have perished from the disease.

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Thirty-six of those reported to have died from the illness lived in long-term care or assisted living facilities. Meanwhile, 24 resided in private dwellings and one lived in a group home. Residents of long-term care and assisted living facilities have made up roughly 67% of deaths from COVID-19 in the state.

Malcolm said that the state had helped staff 57 facilities where employees had tested positive for the illness. And Minnesota National Guard Adjutant General Shawn Manke said 270 guardsmen had been trained and sent out to work in 17 facilities with critical need and another 100 were undergoing training.

"I wholeheartedly wish we did not have to do this mission but the fact of the matter is we are," Manke said. "These residents of these long-term care facilities are real people and they require real care."

The staffing issues and growing case counts in assisted living facilities have also forced some to roll back family visiting options out of concerns about the additional spread. And directors of two long-term care groups urged Minnesotans to wear masks, social distance and minimize in-person meetings to prevent the disease's spread.

Christine Dallmann, executive director at SpringBrook Village in La Crescent, Minn., said she'd been able to open up the facility to general visitors earlier this fall. But after the recent surge in cases and a positive test of a caregiver and resident there, Dallmann and her staff had to restrict visits from loved ones.

"I understand that people have concerns about wearing their masks, but this is bigger than you or me. For the sake of our residents and families, please do your part," Dallman said. "I want our facility's residents to be able to see their families and friends without being afraid they will contract this virus or give it to one of their friends."

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  • Minnesota Department of Health COVID-19 hotline: 651-201-3920.
  • COVID-19 discrimination hotline: 833-454-0148
  • Minnesota Department of Health COVID-19 website: Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) website .

Health officials: The 'flood wall is being breached' as COVID-19 reaches long-term care facilities

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Dana Ferguson is a Minnesota Capitol Correspondent for Forum News Service. Ferguson has covered state government and political stories since she joined the news service in 2018, reporting on the state's response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the divided Statehouse and the 2020 election.
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