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Omicron variant hitting Minnesota long-term care homes

New cases had been falling last month after residents received COVID-19 vaccine boosters

Featuring: Elder Voice Family Advocate, Kristine Sundberg

By Glenn Howatt Star Tribune JANUARY 21, 2022 — 4:29PM

New COVID-19 cases in Minnesota's long-term care facilities jumped significantly with the spread of the omicron variant, reversing progress made after a successful vaccine booster campaign among residents.

As in other industries, infections also are hitting workers serving long-term care, creating shortages one week before nursing homes must meet a federal requirement to have staff vaccination rates of at least 80%, along with plans to achieve full vaccination by the end of February.

Weekly resident coronavirus infections more than doubled in the first week of 2022 in nursing homes and assisted-living facilities as the highly infectious variant took hold in the state, according to data released Thursday by the Minnesota Department of Health.

Before then, the number of COVID-19 cases had been declining as the rate of residents getting boosters went up. In the state's 360 nursing homes, 80% of fully vaccinated residents have received the booster, up from 12% at the start of November, according to federal health data.

In the week leading up to Christmas, 127 long-term care residents tested positive, the lowest tally since mid-September. But there were 576 cases in the first week of the year, according to preliminary data, with omicron fueling new infections in every corner of the state.

So many Minnesotans are testing positive for COVID-19 that state health officials said Friday that they have a backlog of about 46,000 reports of probable infections that are not yet included in the publicly announced totals.

The reports need to be reviewed to eliminate duplicates and abnormalities. State health officials are retooling workflows to eliminate the backlog, but they emphasized that the 10 highest daily case totals for the pandemic have happened over the past four weeks.

Minnesota could have up to 1.26 million cases while the official tally stands at 1.22 million, including 11,828 announced Friday. Deaths increased to 11,151 with 36 more fatalities, including eight long-term care residents.