Minn. Guard called in for COVID outbreaks at two nursing homes

In a troubling sign of COVID-19’s resurgence, the Minnesota National Guard has been called in to provide emergency staffing support at two nursing homes struggling to contain large and deadly outbreaks of the respiratory disease.

Over the past 10 days, the National Guard has dispatched small teams of medical professionals to facilities at opposite ends of the state where dozens of residents and staff have been sickened, and where staffing levels became so depleted that they turned to the state for help. Both facilities — one in the southern Minnesota city of Austin and the other on the Iron Range in Hibbing — have active outbreaks and are isolating infected residents in separate COVID-19 units.

The rare deployments come amid an alarming resurgence of COVID-19 across the region and amid mounting evidence that the virus is infiltrating Minnesota’s 2,100 long-term care facilities after declining over the summer. They also reflect how the virus is shifting toward smaller facilities in rural areas where staffing shortages are more severe.

With cases rising statewide, public health experts fear a repeat of the chaotic scenes this spring, when some senior homes became so overwhelmed they had to move residents to hospitals and get support staff to fill in as caregivers because so many employees were infected and had to be quarantined.

The use of rapid testing and stricter isolation techniques have reduced coronavirus-related fatalities in Minnesota’s senior homes since their peak in May. Even so, the list of such facilities with at least one confirmed infection in a resident or worker in the past 28 days has grown from 239 on Sept. 1 to more than 340, the state Health Department reported last week. Slightly more than 70% of Minnesota’s 2,151 coronavirus deaths have occurred in nursing homes and assisted-living facilities.

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