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Vaccine blunts impact in long-term care

The number of COVID-19 cases in North Dakota’s long-term care facilities has been rising this fall, according to statistics from the North Dakota Department of Health

While still well below levels seen during the peak a year ago, cases have followed the general upward trend in the state.

“We have had rising numbers for about a month,” said Shelly Peterson, president of the North Dakota Long-Term Care Association. “As we see the delta variant making its entry across North Dakota, we are feeling it, too.”

On Thursday, there were 98 active cases among residents and 142 active cases among staff in long-term care in North Dakota. Within Minot, the health department reported 15 cases in residents and 20 cases among staff, spread across five facilities.

Among them is Somerset Court, with eight cases in residents and eight in staff. A year ago, Somerset was battling a major outbreak in which 84 residents eventually tested positive and 21 died. That experience hasn’t been forgotten.

“It is scary going back into it,” said Somerset Director Hannah Thom of the rise in cases.

“They don’t want things to get worse,” she said of residents, “and neither do we.”

She said the senior living facility is working closely with the state’s Vulnerable Population Protection Plan (VP3) team in following guidance to contain the spread.

She said Somerset has instituted more frequent testing and has closed congregate dining to provide residents with meals in their apartments. Each resident is allowed only one visitor at a time. As has been standard during the pandemic, all visitors must wear masks when in congregate areas and anyone entering the facility is screened for symptoms.

The re-occurrence of cases has been difficult for residents, some of whom have had to quarantine as close contacts, Thom said.

“But we haven’t had to do a stay-in-place order and our activities have still been able to resume in-house,” she said, noting that activities, such as bingo, can be socially distanced. “So, morale has been pretty good. We are trying to have our residents keep as much freedom as possible while keeping them safe.”

The health department reported four active cases among residents at Trinity Homes and two at The Wellington on Thursday. Edgewood, Elmcroft and Trinity also had cases among staff.

The vast majority of cases occurring in long-term care have been among unvaccinated staff, Peterson said.

The vaccine has blunted the impact of the virus by not only preventing illness in many cases but reducing severity and deaths when breakthroughs occur, Peterson said.

“The vaccine has absolutely made a positive impact in saving residents’ lives,” she said.

The latest report from the state shows 93% of 8,870 residents and 68% of 12,720 staff members are fully vaccinated. The state is awaiting details from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services regarding a future vaccine mandate for staff.

Peterson said the spread of the virus is expected to slow soon.

“We are looking at the data, looking at the numbers, and feel hopeful within two weeks the numbers will start going down, based on the experience of other states,” she said.

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