A COVID-19 outbreak at Three Links Care Center has swelled to at least 76 residents and staff, nearly doubling since last week alone as the state continues to see a hefty spike in cases and deaths from the virus.

Three Links CEO Mark Anderson said that as of noon Tuesday 38 residents had tested positive for the virus since Oct. 20, including at least two since Monday. As of noon Thursday, 38 Care Center employees had tested positive since Oct. 25, including nine since noon Monday.

Anderson said due to privacy concerns, Three Links is unable to share the location of any residents. He noted the two employees who he had been told had tested positive Nov. 11 were last at work Nov. 10 and 11 at The Cottages. The employees had worn a surgical mask and eye protection when in resident care areas. The employees are isolating at home and are not expected to return to work until meeting Minnesota Department of Health guidelines to return. Anderson said COVID-19 testing of residents and other employees began earlier this week. 

As of Nov. 3, 26 Three Links Care Center residents and 16 staff members had tested positive for the virus over the prior two weeks. At the time, the virus had seemed to show signs of slowing at the Northfield congregate living facility. No resident had tested positive over the prior four days.

“We know this news may cause concern,” Anderson said Tuesday of the further spike in cases. “Our staff (is) trained to care for our residents in a calm, professional manner while following strict infection prevention measures.”

All residents are quarantining in their rooms, and indoor visits have been suspended with exceptions for end-of-life services “and other urgent needs,” Anderson said. Residents who have tested positive are reportedly being cared for in a designated area of the Care Center. Staff working in designated areas and is not allowed to cross into other areas of the facility. Anderson said Care Center residents and staff are frequently tested for the virus, and extra sanitation and cleaning of surfaces is being done on an ongoing basis. Anderson noted Minnesota Department of Health surveyors found no deficiencies within Three Links during a Nov. 5 COVID-19 survey of the Care Center.

The outbreak at Three Links, which offers a care center, senior apartments, assisted living, memory care and end-of-life services, comes as Minnesota saw a record high number of COVID-19 deaths from Tuesday to Wednesday with 56, including 38 in long-term care facilities. The state has recently set records for positive cases several times. 

Three NH+C long-term care staff test positive

Three Northfield Hospital and Clinics Long Term Care Center staff have tested positive for COVID-19. According to a press release, no residents have tested positive or had any symptoms. Staff wear PPE when caring for residents, reportedly based on specific Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state guidelines in skilled nursing facilities.

The release states the staff are the first positive cases in the Long Term Care Center. The tests are considered part of routine weekly testing for all Long Term Care Center staff, based on requirements from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, which governs skilled nursing facilities.

NH+C is expected to begin testing all Long Term Care Center staff within a 24-hour period starting Monday, with repeat testing every seven days until reaching 14 days with no positive test results.

Visits have been suspended. Visitor restrictions had been place since March 13. However, limited, scheduled visits resumed last month. Window visits are allowed as weather permits, and families are encouraged to connect to friends and family via phone and video chat.

Five Rice County residents have died from the virus since Monday. Fifty-eight cases were reported in the county from Tuesday to Wednesday. COVID-19 has taken an especially high toll on those over 70. According to the Minnesota Department of Health, more than 80% of COVID-19 deaths within the state have been in that age group.

Gov. Tim Walz tightened restrictions on bars and restaurants Tuesday to slow the rapid spread of the disease, including instituting a 10 p.m. curfew for in-person service at restaurants and bars. In addition, bar seating and counter service will be prohibited; standing games like pool and darts will be limited. Beginning Nov. 27, wedding receptions and other events will be capped at 50 people, which will be further reduced to 25 by Dec. 11. School districts in Northfield, Faribault, Kenyon-Wanamingo and St. Peter are shifting away from in-person learning as the spike continues. 

Steele County saw 14 new cases and five deaths from Tuesday to Wednesday. Six are hospitalized within the county.

Purfeerst: Keeping COVID-19 out of care facilities "challenging" 

Rice County Public Health Director Deb Purfeerst noted keeping COVID-19 cases out of long-term care facilities is difficult because of the high number of asymptomatic people who are spreading the virus, and COVID-19 spreading easily in congregate settings. She said any facility with at least one COVID-19 case is given an MDH case manager who ensures the care center is taking the necessary steps to minimize resident and staff risk. Purfeerst expects the introduction of a vaccine will help prevent staff and residents from spreading the virus. 

Purfeerst said in October that increases in positive tests and deaths from the virus across the state are expected as more people spend time indoors due to colder weather. At the time, she noted COVID-19 testing indicated Rice County was in a slightly better position in combating the virus than comparable areas. Still, she said it was most important that people follow existing guidelines to combat the spread of the virus, including minimizing close contact with others, quarantining for 14 days following a positive test, and isolating after being exposed to the virus.

Steele County Public Health Director Amy Caron said Steele County congregate care facilities continue doing well and avoiding outbreaks but have seen a few scattered cases of staff and residents as the county sees a substantial increase in positive tests. She noted no recent cases have been reported in congregate care settings, but some in over the 70 have been diagnosed in private residences. However, she added most new positive cases are coming from people in their 20s to early 50s.

County public health staff has assisted with testing since September, and facilities continue to have preventative measures in place to slow the spread of the virus, including limiting or not allowing visitors, refusing to allow residents to congregate, using personal protective equipment, masking, social distancing and disinfecting.

Steele County hosted community testing days Nov. 9 and 10. Caron noted a majority of the more than 900 people who took the tests, some sick, live within the county. She doesn't anticipate knowing how many have tested positive for approximately one week.

Reach Associate Editor Sam Wilmes at 507-645-1115. © Copyright 2020 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All rights reserved.

Load comments