ST. PAUL -- State health officials say it is safe for seniors who’ve been vaccinated against the coronavirus to be closer than six feet apart, but they still need to wear masks.
The Minnesota Department of Health announced updated guidance for assisted-living facilities Wednesday, March 31. It says vaccinated seniors can sit together to play cards or dine after they are fully vaccinated.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says someone is fully vaccinated two weeks after their last dose. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two doses while the Johnson & Johnson formula is just one shot.
“Due to the real impact we are seeing high vaccination rates have on the spread of disease and serious illness, we as state regulators of assisted living are changing our guidance to allow for more open dining and activities to better meet the needs of residents, families and providers,” said Jan Malcolm, state health commissioner.
The new guidance does not include skilled nursing facilities where residents are at higher risk of serious illness. Those facilities are regulated by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid.
Tight-fitting masks continue to be recommended unless someone is eating. Health officials are still studying whether vaccinated people can spread the coronavirus.
Seniors have borne much of the brunt of the pandemic. Nearly 90 percent of Minnesota’s 6,848 COVID-19 deaths have been seniors, including 4,276 fatalities in long-term care.
As of March 24, there were 141 long-term care facilities with coronavirus outbreaks. The state defines an outbreak as one case in a resident or staff member in the last 28 days.
Cases in long-term care peaked in early December when 716 facilities had active outbreaks.
Residents of nursing homes and assisted living were among the first to be eligible for the coronavirus vaccine. About 81 percent of Minnesota residents 65 and older have gotten at least one shot.
The American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living announced Tuesday that federal data shows a 96 percent decline in new coronavirus cases and a 91 percent decline in COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes nationwide.
“We are not out of the woods yet, but these numbers are incredibly encouraging and a major morale booster for frontline caregivers who have been working tirelessly for more than a year to protect our residents,” said Mark Parkinson, president and CEO of the two advocacy groups.
Minnesota reported a dozen new COVID-19 deaths Wednesday and 1,660 new cases. Nearly 520,000 cases have been diagnosed since the outbreak began.
Minnesota has administered 2.6 million doses of vaccine and 1 million residents are now fully vaccinated.