ROCHESTER, Minn. — Stressing the need to balance safety with the wellbeing of residents in long-term care, the Minnesota Department of Health loosened its guidance for nursing homes on Monday, Oct. 12.
The new state policy will better conform with updated federal guidance, a change from merely allowing homes that have lower risk of COVID-19 spread to reopen for visitors, to requiring they do so.
"If facilities have not had a COVID-19 case in the last 14 days, broader visitation must be allowed," MDH Director of Health Facilities Complaints Lindsey Krueger said Monday during a call with the media. "At 109 cases per 1000 long term care residents, Minnesota is 40th nationally in resident cases per 1,000 residents."
Like its approach to school reopenings, the health department will employ an individualized risk-ranking system that classifies a congregate care center as low, medium or high risk based on the county test positivity rate. The new policy will go into effect Saturday, Oct. 17.
In other news Monday, health officials updated the tally of cases linked to visits last month by the two presidential campaigns.
According to state director of infectious disease Kris Ehresmann, contact tracing has now identified three cases tied to the Sept. 30 visit by President Donald Trump at the Duluth airport. Because two of those cases were members of the same household the trio is not officially designated an outbreak.
The case numbers were greater at earlier events last month. The state has identified three cases tied to the visit by Vice President Mike Pence to a hotel at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport on Sept. 24. Those cases were from separate households, making the numbers an official outbreak.
There are an additional four cases tied to Trump's Sept. 18 rally in Bemidji. The total number of people affected is now at 12 cases.
When health officials include four cases tied to a Bemidji protest, that visit is responsible for 16 cases total, including two hospitalizations as of Friday, one in the ICU.
Health officials say two Biden campaign events have been linked to two cases of COVID-19.
The state reported an additional 1178 cases of COVID-19 on Monday, and on just over 18,000 tests.
Monday was the fifth day in a row with more than 1,000 cases.
A notable spike in the Monday data included 142 cases in Washington County east of the Twin Cities, an elevation due to an additional 90 cases identified recently in a one-day prevalence check at the state correctional facility in Stillwater, according to Ehresmann.
Washington County also borders Wisconsin, home to an outbreak. A comparatively less restricted state whose low case numbers and deaths were once depicted as a model by critics of the policies taken by Gov. Tim Walz, the state to Minnesota's east is now seeing some of the highest rates of COVID-19 transmission in the nation.
MDH recorded 3,000 new cases over the weekend, on roughly 30,000 tests daily. On Saturday, the state set a one day record for new cases, reporting over 1,500 cases identified on Friday. The state still has a 5% case positivity rate week over week, a threshold it believes suggests a dangerous level of spread.
Minnesota saw an additional 20 deaths over the previous three days, and Monday brought an additional three deaths from the illness. The state has now lost 2144 lives to COVID-19.
There are 444 patients hospitalized with COVID-19, 137 in an ICU setting.
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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.