MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz, along with state health leaders, announced Tuesday that progress has been made since the long-term care “battle plan” was implemented in early May.

According to state officials, data is now showing that efforts to identify and contain the spread of COVID-19 in various congregate care settings has been successful.

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“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,” Walz said.

Walz said, despite progress, Tuesday’s update is not a victory lap.

“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,” Walz said.

The virus has been particularly deadly to the elderly, many of whom suffer from underlying health issues. As of Tuesday, a majority of the deaths linked to COVID-19 in Minnesota (1,548) have involved a patient at a long-term care (1,189).

In early May, state officials announced the five-point “battle plan” to protect those living and working in long-term care settings. The plan includes expanded testing for residents, ensuring adequate staffing levels and providing PPE for facilities.

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State officials say elements of the battle plan that were successfully implemented include:

● Developed testing criteria and a process for facilities to request testing services, making it possible to expand testing for residents and workers in long-term care facilities.
● Implemented a Nurse Triage Line to provide test results and information on COVID-19 and streamlined the billing process for using the state’s testing partnership, to provide testing support and troubleshooting to clear barriers faster.
● Developed a system for prioritizing and disbursing personal protective equipment (PPE) to facilities, including an emergency supply and response system, to ensure these materials are available when needed.
● Utilized a scheduling software system to connect facilities with staffing needs to available staff, as well as develop triggers and a notification system for when a facility needs additional staffing. In June, 112 shifts were filled through this system, representing 36 percent of available shifts. There are more than 1,100 qualified healthcare professionals signed up in the database.
● Leveraged partnerships at all levels, including state and federal agencies, as well as long-term care associations and regional healthcare coalitions to improve long-term care testing, staffing, PPE distribution, and patient surge capacity and discharge.

Additionally, as of July 21, data shows half of Minnesota’s 368 nursing homes and 77% of the 1,692 assisted living facilities have never had a reported case of COVID-19.

“COVID-19 is still part of our lives, and there will continue to be cases, including in long-term care facilities,” Minnesota Commissioner of Health Jan Malcolm said. “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.”

Malcolm said the downward trend is very encouraging. In early May, MDH reported an average of 23 new facilities daily having an outbreak — that number is currently down to an average of six facilities. Also, in the third week of May, MDH reported 137 deaths among long-term care residents in that week, compared to last week where there were 13 deaths among long-term care residents.

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Recently, health officials released new guidance on LTC facilities, allowing access for designated family members and other people deemed essential caregivers. Health officials say the guidance balances meeting residents’ needs and limiting risks of infection.