By David Schuman

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Impatient families got the update they were waiting for Wednesday when the Minnesota Department of Health put out new visitation guidance for long-term care facilities.

More than 1.3 million Minnesotans have received at least one dose of coronavirus vaccine, and nearly 790,000 have been fully vaccinated.

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Fully vaccinated residents can gather with other vaccinated people, and also have close contact with unvaccinated visitors as long as the visitors are from a single household and low risk.

State Senator Karin Housley is the chair of the senate’s Aging and Long Term Care Committee.

“What our seniors have been through, I just feel for them, so that there’s light at the end of this tunnel is so wonderful for everybody,” said Housley.

It’s still on facilities to update their own visitation policies, something that Housley says hasn’t happened uniformly across the board.

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“The facilities are a little skittish on being the first one out of the gate to have their own policies because there’s liability there,” she said.

Carol Tonkin is experiencing this with her own mother. Indoor visits are allowed where her mother lives, but only for a half-hour, and she says it’s difficult getting a time slot.

“It’s been hard for her to not see the new babies in the family,” Tonkin said.

The Minnesota Department of Health says 96% of long-term care facilities are required to allow visitors to some extent.

Full MDH guidance on visitation and outings:

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  • Residents who are fully vaccinated do not have to quarantine after non-medically necessary outings unless they spend 15 minutes or more in a 24-hour period within 6 feet of someone who can spread COVID-19.
  • Residents who are fully vaccinated do not have to quarantine after non-medically necessary outings unless they spend 15 minutes or more in a 24-hour period within 6 feet of someone who can spread COVID-19.
  • Residents who are fully vaccinated may gather indoors or outdoors with other people who are fully vaccinated.
  • Residents who are fully vaccinated can visit indoors or outdoors with unvaccinated people from a single household who are at low risk for severe COVID-19 infection.
  • If the resident is fully vaccinated, they can choose to have close contact (including touch) with the people they are visiting.
  • If a resident who is fully vaccinated chooses to attend a place of worship or other group events, or to shop or eat in public establishments, the resident should follow the core principles of COVID-19 infection prevention.
  • MDH strongly encourages attending places of worship or other group events only when the 14-day county percent positivity rate is below 5%.
  • Unvaccinated residents who leave the building to gather with others may be required to quarantine when they return.
  • At this time, quarantine recommendations remain unchanged for an unvaccinated resident, regardless of the vaccination status of those with whom they gather.

The updated guidance includes the following recommendations related to facility visits:

  • Residents should be able to have private visits.
  • If a resident is fully vaccinated, they can choose to have close contact (including touch) with their visitor while wearing a well-fitted face mask (if tolerated) and performing hand hygiene before and after.
  • While taking a person-centered approach, outdoor visitation is preferred even when the resident and visitor are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, because outdoor visits generally pose a lower risk of spreading the disease. Visits should be held outdoors whenever feasible.
  • Compassionate care visits, essential caregivers, and visits required under state and federal disability rights laws should be allowed at all times, regardless of a resident’s vaccination status, the county’s COVID-19 positivity rate, or an outbreak.
  • Facilities in medium or high positivity counties are encouraged to offer testing to visitors as feasible. Visitors should also be encouraged to get vaccinated when they have the opportunity. While visitor testing and vaccination can help prevent the spread of COVID-19, neither testing nor vaccination should be required of visitors as a condition of visitation, nor should proof of such be requested.
  • Screening questions must now include whether the visitor has had close contact in the prior 14 days with someone who is infected with COVID-19 (regardless of whether the visitor is vaccinated). If the visitor answers yes, the visitor should not be allowed to enter.
  • Vaccinations and the slowing of coronavirus infections are allowing us to safely expand visitation and allow indoor visits that bring families and residents together. Minnesotans can help continue the positive momentum by taking the right steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19. These include masking up, keeping social distance, staying home when sick, and getting tested when appropriate.

David Schuman