Minnesota Guard to assist with long-term care staffing shortage

Minnesota Guard to assist with long-term care staffing shortage
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The Minnesota National Guard will assist long-term care facilities that are short staffed, under a plan announced Friday by Gov. Tim Walz.

Walz said the Guard has been alerted to prepare for the mission, but details about when and how many members will be deployed were yet to be determined.

The state also will expand an emergency staffing pool that nursing homes and assisted living facilities can use when they have COVID-19 outbreaks, and the Minnesota Department of Human Services will free up capacity at its facilities.

Walz was scheduled to speak Friday morning at North Memorial Health Hospital in Robbinsdale, where he was also expected to announce that the National Guard will be activated to start a new community rapid testing program.

Meanwhile, the Minnesota Department of Health announced on Friday another 3,352 new COVID cases along with 28 more deaths, bringing the pandemic totals to 755,401 infections and 8,407 fatalities.

Walz's action comes in the wake of Thursday's report of 999 COVID patients in the state's hospitals. Only 5% of intensive care beds were open due to the surge of COVID patients as well as trauma and other medical cases.

Hospitals have had a difficult time transferring their patients into nursing facilities and transitional care units. Many have stopped admitting new residents due to a lack of health care workers.

"This surge of COVID-19 hospitalizations has been overwhelming our transitional care units, causing significant backups," said Dr. Kevin Croston, CEO at North Memorial Health. "We are hopeful that today's announcement will provide much needed relief."

Free rapid testing will begin next week at sites in Stillwater, Hutchinson, and Crookston. Three additional sites will open the following week.

Sixteen local public health agencies will launch rapid testing programs. Some will be done in partnership with the community sites, while others will be targeted testing efforts.

Eight of the COVID deaths announced Friday were residents of long-term care facilities, while one person was in the 30- to 34-year age range.

Four of the deaths occurred between December and May. The Health Department does not include a death in its COVID fatality count until it receives confirmation, usually through a test, that the death was related to the coronavirus.

A total of 47,375 COVID test results were reported to the Health Department Thursday. Testing has increased significantly since the recent COVID surge began in July. About 38,000 tests were reported each day on average for the past week, compared to a daily average of about 24,000 two months ago.

The state's testing positivity rate is 8.4%, a number that has not been seen since last December.

Nearly 70% of Minnesota's vaccine eligible population has completed the COVID vaccination series. About 219,000 residents have received either a booster shot or a third dose given to those who are immunocompromised.

This is a developing story. Check startribune.com for updates.

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