ST. PAUL, Minn. (FOX 9) - Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz outlined a five-point plan to protect residents of long-term care facilities Thursday, as he faces increasing pressure over the situation at nursing homes and other care centers.
Walz's plan includes expanded testing, more support for infection prevention, providing more personal protective equipment and ensuring adequate staffing levels at Minnesota facilities.
Minnesota reached 407 long-term care deaths Thursday morning, which represents 80 percent of the state's overall coronavirus-related deaths. The state has reported 508 deaths overall.
"Much of (the new plan) was dependent on things we did not have 30 days ago and we have today," Walz told reporters at a news conference, adding that now was the time for Minnesota to "go on the offensive."
Included in the governor's five-point plan:
The state has issued new guidance on COVID-19 testing in Minnesota, including the goal of routine screening for long-term care residents statewide.
Coronavirus testing will be expanded to all symptomatic residents and staff, as well as facility-wide testing when a case is confirmed or when multiple people develop symptoms. Previously, the state has been doing much more limited testing only of symptomatic people.
The plan also creates so-called "strike teams" to help facilities conduct on-site testing. The teams will be deployed with the help of regional health care coalitions to get those resources to facilities that are facing an outbreak.
Personal protective equipment
A state-managed cache of masks and other PPE for emergency use is another part of Walz's plan. This stockpile will be used when facilities exhaust their supplies and cannot restock.
Adequate staffing levels
As long-term care facilities face staffing issues during the pandemic, Walz's plan seeks to implement "bridge staffing teams" that can temporarily staff long-term care centers that need help.
The Minnesota National Guard will also be deployed as needed, Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said.
State health officials said they would work in close partnership with local public health departments about the situation at long-term care facilities.
Walz's plan will require facilities to develop more in-depth plans to protect residents and staff.
The Walz administration has faced scrutiny for its handling of the situation at long-term care facilities. The state has among the highest rate of long-term care deaths in the U.S.
Minnesota is defining long-term care facilities more broadly than other states, Malcolm said. Still, she acknowledged that health officials should've seen the problem coming.
"It has taken us by surprise just how many facilities will need this kind of enhanced help at the same time," Malcolm said.
State Sen. Karin Housley, the Republican who chairs the Senate Family Care and Aging committee, said she was glad the Walz administration was showing a "renewed focus" on the long-term care issue.
"Some of these facilities are currently treating more COVID-19 patients than hospitals," said Housley, R-St. Marys Point, in an emailed statement. "I am pleased to finally see concrete plans from the administration for addressing these challenges."
Last month, state officials released data showing the majority of the state’s COVID-19 deaths were occurring in long-term care facilities. It also published a list of long-term care facilities that have COVID-19 exposure.
Two long-term care facilities have seen the brunt of the virus in St. Therese of New Hope and Catholic Eldercare in Minneapolis.
At St. Therese, 47 residents had died of COVID-19 as of April 30.