(The Center Square) – About 81.7 percent of Minnesota’s COVID-19 deaths were in nursing homes and residential care communities, the highest percentage state in the nation that reports such data.
That’s according to data from The Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity (FREOPP), a Texas-based nonprofit think tank.
State data reports 537 deaths out of a total of 663 deaths took place in long-term care facilities (LTCF).
Minnesota’s nursing home and residential care community COVID-19 fatality rates are much higher than neighboring states that reported data.
Wisconsin reported 42.5 percent of COVID-19 deaths in those facilities, the analysis says, while Iowa reported 56 percent.
LTCF residents account for less than 1 percent of Minnesota’s population, 13 percent of Minnesota’s COVID-19 cases, and 81 percent of COVID-19 deaths.
One in five nursing homes have cases, less than one in 10 assisted living facilities have cases, and most facilities with cases have one or two, Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said last week.
State data says at least one COVID-19 case has been reported in 180 congregate care facilities.
Infectious Disease Division Director Kris Ehresmann told The Center Square the state’s LTCF COVID-19 death rate is higher in Minnesota because of aggressive testing.
“Our focus on LTC means we will have more deaths because we are testing in the age group where we expect to see more fatalities AND we have now identified everyone as a case – so their death will count,” Ehresmann wrote in an email.
“What that means is that if any of those long term care cases subsequently die – they will be included in our death count,” she wrote. “If we had not been doing aggressive testing some deaths would have been missed and not counted as COVID. Our aggressive screening and testing means that we are counting more cases and deaths than are missed. We don’t know that that is happening in other states.”
Gov. Tim Walz said last week the state is prepared “to go on the offensive” to reduce deaths and infections in long-term care facilities with a five-point plan.
The plan includes actively screening residents and staff for COVID-19, expanding testing to all symptomatic people in the facility, and performing a facility-wide test after a confirmed case or when people develop symptoms.
Malcolm said Tuesday it will take weeks until the plan is implemented.
COVID-19 hit LTCF nationwide as residents fall into two high at-risk categories: the elderly and those with underlying medical conditions that compromise their immune systems.
FREOPP research fellow Gregg Girvan and President Avik Roy estimate that about 1.6 percent of the nation’s population live in nursing homes or residential care facilities, but they account for 40 percent of all COVID-19 deaths in reporting states.