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Minnesotans worry as COVID-19 spreads to nursing homes

MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota residents are worried about their elderly loved ones as the coronavirus outbreak spreads to nursing homes.

At least 17 people living in nine senior care facilities across the state have become infected with COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, the Star Tribune reported. Public health officials are concerned that the virus already has spread to more facilities but has not been detected.

Adult children fear they won’t be able to touch their relatives again for weeks or months, or that their loved ones will die alone in locked-down facilities.

“I am trying to stay strong, but it’s absolutely tearing me apart that I can’t reach out and hug my mother,” said Jillian Van Hefty, whose mother has Alzheimer’s disease. “I don’t want her to feel abandoned.”

On a recent morning, Van Hefty stood with her 11-year-old son, Alex, as they waved and blew kisses to the 77-year-old woman. She waved back from behind a screened window at the All Saints Senior Living community in Shakopee.

Married couples who live in the same facilities also have been separated.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.

Minnesota’s long-term-care industry is trying to avoid the scenarios such as what happened at a nursing home in Kirkland, Washington, where at least 37 deaths have been linked to the COVID-19 outbreak

“We know this is going to get worse, much worse,” said Jean Peters, president of Elder Voice Family Advocates, a volunteer group seeking better care for seniors.

Many Minnesota families are agonizing over whether to move their frail parents out of nursing homes. Those who cannot care for loved ones at home are struggling with separation and not knowing whether their relatives are safe.

“The choices we are being forced to make are gut-wrenching,” Patty Sagert said as she dropped off groceries for her elderly mother.