MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) on Friday released new guidance for long-term care facilities during the pandemic, allowing access for designated family members and other people deemed essential caregivers.

“People designated as essential caregivers will have expanded access to help ensure that the residents’ full range of emotional, social and physical needs are met,” MDH said in a release.

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The move loosens safety and visitation restrictions for long-term care facilities, which have been in place since mid-March to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“Minnesota families have made great sacrifices to control the spread of COVID-19 in our long-term care facilities. I know this has been hard,” Gov. Tim Walz said. “But with this guidance, families will be able to reunite with their loved ones while continuing to protect the health of our elderly Minnesotans.”

MDH says the new guidance, called the Essential Caregiver Guidance for Long-term Care Facilities, lays out a framework that providers can use to designate certain people as essential caregivers.

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Health officials say the guidance balances meeting residents’ needs and limiting risks of infection.

“While preventing the spread of COVID-19 among residents of long-term care facilities has been a top priority since the start of the pandemic, we all recognize how important it is to ensure that the social and emotional needs of residents continue to be met – especially in light of limitations on visits and other activities in these settings,” MDH Commissioner Jan Malcolm said. “By rolling out this guidance for essential care providers, we are helping to build a more robust framework that providers can use to ensure that residents’ full range of needs are met.”

The MDH says an essential caregiver could be a family member, outside caregiver, friend or volunteer — who has provided regular care and support before and during the pandemic. Residents are not limited to one essential caregiver.

A majority of deaths linked to COVID-19 have occurred in long-term care settings.

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