New guidance for long-term care facilities outlines 2 levels of visits, activities amid COVID-19 pandemic

Minnesota health officials released new guidance Monday to help long-term care facilities determine when and how to ease limitations on visits and activities for residents during the COVID-19 pandemic

The Minnesota Department of Health said the guidance is intended to help long-term care facilities balance the safety and well-being of residents to limit “unintended harms of social isolation.” 

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At Monday’s MDH COVID-19 press conference, said Aisha Elmquist, deputy ombudsman for the Office of Ombudsman for Long-Term Care, said research has shown how isolation increases mental and physical decline. 

“We hope this guidance will help to alleviate the solitude and heartache that people in long-term care have endured over the past months,” Elmquist said. 

According to the guidance, the primary consideration for facility visitation decisions should be whether there has been an exposure in the facility from a COVID-19 case in a resident, staff or visiting service provider within the past 28 days.

The guidance provides a series of other factors facilities can use to evaluate COVID-19 risk, including the number of cases in the surrounding community, facility size and the extent to which staff at the facility are working at other long-term care facilities as well.

The guidance identifies two levels of visitation and activities for long-term care facilities, based on risk. Level 1 is the most restrictive regarding visits and activities while Level 2 allows for more visits and activities. 

Level 1 

A facility must be in Level 1 if there has been a COVID-19 exposure at the facility in the past 28 days. 

Level 1 requires extra limitations on visitors and activities. Essential health care personnel, essential caregivers and compassionate care visits are allowed, along with outdoor visitation and window visits.

Level 2

A facility may be in Level 2 if there has not been a COVID-19 exposure at the facility in the past 28 days. 

Level 2 allows for controlled visits from family and friends, and resident trips outside the facility. Family, friends and other visitors are allowed to visit after arranging the visit with the facility. 

If the facility identifies that a resident has COVID-19 or that a staff member has COVID-19 and worked while infectious, the facility must move back to visitation and activities Level 1. 

The guidance takes effect on Aug. 29. 

As of Monday, residents of long-term care facilities account for approximately 6 percent of Minnesota's COVID-19 cases and 75 percent of deaths.