MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Starting Saturday, people living in Minnesota long-term care facilities will be able to connect with loved ones in a way they haven’t for several months.

Gov. Tim Walz’s administration is rolling back the long-standing visitor restrictions, despite COVID-19 cases rising in Minnesota.

From outdoor visits on the patio to video calls on a tablet, New Brighton residential assisted living facility Family Tree Care Homes has carefully navigated keeping residents protected from COVID, but connected to family. Lee Panzer owns the facility.

“Our number-one priority is our residents’ safety,” Panzer said. “It’s a challenge not being able to see your loved one.”

That is why staff members are looking forward to allowing loved ones inside the home for a visit, albeit with extra precautions.

“Part of it would be an antigen test, 15-minute antigen test on the family members 15 minutes prior to them visiting with their loved one, and then wearing all of their protective equipment,” Panzer said.

The Minnesota Department of Health’s guidelines say a long-term care facility can allow indoor visits if it hasn’t had a COVID-19 case in the prior two weeks, and the positivity rate in its county is under 10%. Jan Malcolm is the department’s commissioner.

“We know the benefits of increasing social interaction for residents of LTC,” Malcolm said. “We know the health consequences directly from isolation.”

Despite rolling back restrictions, state health officials say it doesn’t mean people should let their guard down — especially with Minnesota having five-straight days with more than 1,000 new cases.

Todd Klien, executive director of Copperfield Hill in Robbinsdale, says they will carefully schedule and monitor the number of visitors entering the building.

“It’s a balance,” Klien said. “They just need to make sure that they are taking all the same precautions that we would expect our residents to be taking, too, and not putting into jeopardy any of the health, any of the safety of the staff that work here or residents that live here.”

Panzer feels the same way.

“It’s really important for the community to remember that the virus is still going on and it’s very much present,” Panzer said. “We as an assisted living facility, 24/7 we think about the virus because of who we serve.”

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Jeff Wagner

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