State begins rapid testing of all residents, staff of long-term care homes with COVID-19

A sign warning visitors sits in front of a building.
A sign sits in the driveway of Johanna Shores Senior Living to warn visitors about restrictions due to COVID-19 in Arden Hills in early April. The facility will be among the first to get widespread testing of staff and residents by one of the state's regional rapid testing teams.
Evan Frost | MPR News file

Updated 5:48 p.m.

Teams of public health personnel and trained medics with the Minnesota National Guard will perform targeted, but in-depth testing in about 20 long-term care facilities throughout the state beginning on Thursday. 

Among the sites being tested is Johanna Shores, which had one of the state’s first known cases of COVID-19 in a long-term care facility.

All staff at the Arden Hills campus and the residents in the long-term care skilled nursing facility will be fully tested for coronavirus, a spokesperson said. Cindy Ray of Presbyterian Homes, which owns the facility, also said residents or “or their responsible party, may choose to ‘opt-out’ if they notify the staff in writing by end of [Thursday].”

Mark Pederson, the regional director of operations for Presbyterian Homes, said, “Tests at Johanna Shores will be conducted by state epidemiologists and the National Guard and testing for COVID-19 will be the only activity conducted.”

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Testing at Johanna Shores will begin Friday morning.

Gayle Kvenvold, the president and CEO of LeadingAge Minnesota, an association of nursing homes and assisted living facilities in the state, said that several members of her organization got a message Wednesday about the possibility for “whole house” testing of residents and staff.

"A message went out to a number of the sites that already have COVID-positive cases asking them if they would be interested in having this opportunity to be among the first to be tested,” she said. “And my understanding is there will be 10 [Thursday], and then 10 the following day. The goal is that there are 10 a day and also that they will be in regions across the state."

The Minnesota National Guard tweeted Thursday afternoon that 21 members of the Guard have started testing at long-term care facilities.

State Emergency Operations Manager Joe Kelly said those guard members doing testing are trained medics.

“They complete about four months of skills training on patient care and treatment techniques, as well as emergency medical procedures,” he said. “They are also required to earn certification as nationally registered basic emergency medical technicians or EMTs."

Kelly said they guard members have been trained on COVID-19 testing and have been given personal protective equipment. They began testing in facilities Thursday afternoon.

More than 80 percent of deaths are residents of long-term care homes.

The state announced a five-point plan last week to protect the most vulnerable from the worst effects of coronavirus infection.

As part of that plan, the state announced it would start doing facility-wide testing when a case is confirmed or multiple people develop symptoms in a home.

Kris Ehresmann, the state’s infectious disease director, said the initial testing will be done at long-term care homes with confirmed cases.

"We are starting with facilities that have had a confirmed case and they are testing all staff and all residents of those facilities and once we have gone through facilities that have had a case, we wanted to start there, then certainly yes, we will be testing even more broadly,” she said.

Ehresmann said they are asking that facilities that have relationships with health care providers that can test for COVID-19, that those providers do that testing. If not, the state will help with facility-wide testing.

“This is a positive development and we're really pleased to see this kind of rapid deployment on testing,” Kvenvold said. Asymptomatic carriers of the disease are believed to have made COVID-19 much more difficult to contain in congregate care settings. 

Wednesday,the state approved $3 million to be used for regional mobile testing teams for testing in long-term care facilities.

Clarification: An earlier version of this story misstated the scope of testing at Johanna Shores. The above copy is updated.