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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Congregate care facilities continue to be a priority for the state, with the highest number of COVID-19-related deaths occurring among Minnesota’s most vulnerable.

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State Sen. Karin Housley called on state leaders Tuesday to do more to implement universal testing for all residents and staff at long-term care facilities, and to bring in the National Guard to help if needed.

Families with loved ones in group living situations agree that more testing is needed. Jack and Mary Seeman live in independent living for seniors that’s connected to assisted living, a place that has nurses at the ready. Their family members, including Laure and Jack Swanson, have been able to keep in touch via Zoom, but they have worried since the COVID-19 outbreak began.

“Scared to death,” Laure said.

And they have now learned someone living at an adjacent facility has died.

“My mother is also living in a memory care unit here in town. So far they’ve been fine over there, but it’s a wait-and-see game,” Jack Swanson said.

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Laure’s parents — 94-year-old World War II veteran Jack, and 87-year-old retired teacher Mary — are in Willmar, where more cases of the virus have been confirmed.

“I think they’re doing an amazing job with what they have to work with, but they need more tests,” Jack said.

They said especially for staff.

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“They get screened every day, but you can be contagious without having a fever,” Jack said.

Housley, who chairs Minnesota’s Senate Family Care and Aging Committee, urges the state to develop a plan.

“Right now they’re only testing residents that show symptoms of the coronavirus, so then you’re already too late. You’re behind the eight ball, so you have to start testing all of the staff,” Housley said.

Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm says the state is still ramping up testing volume.

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“It might be a laudable goal to move toward broader population testing in these particularly vulnerable settings. But in complete candor, it would not be something we’d be able to do immediately with the available capacities,” Malcolm said.

The Swansons say that’s the only thing that will bring them peace and comfort.

“We’ve got to figure out how to live life with this virus, and I mean testing would be the answer to everything,” Laure said.

The state says they’re working with a team from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to develop a plan and best practices for long-term care facilities.

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Jennifer Mayerle