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Local program aims to ease elderly loneliness as official warn of community spread impacts

ROCHESTER, Minn. (KTTC) -- If you have a loved one in an assisted living or long term care facility, you know first hand how difficult these past six months have been. While it hasn't been easy, infection rates of COVID-19 among residents and staff at these facilities is down more than 30 percent since April.

"It is a great accomplishment to mention," Minnesota Department of Health Home Care and Assisted Living Program Lindsey Krueger said.

State health officials agree it's good news, but it doesn't mean the state is in the clear.

Many facilities have yet to allow visitors back inside or are back peddling after loosening restrictions. While COVID-19 outbreaks in these facilities may be down since the beginning of the pandemic, Minnesota's high rate of community spread remains an issue.

"A much larger portion of our cases are occurring in health care workers rather than residents and that really is a function of the increase in community spread," MDH Infectious Disease Director Kris Ehresmann said.

"The progress we've made in long term care is real, but it is also fragile," Krueger said. "Even the best run facility with the strongest and most consistent practices can not withstand a blizzard of COVID that surrounds it."

With cold weather and the holiday season looming; those concerns are growing.

Home Instead has been working to ease elderly isolation during the holidays with its "Santa to Senior" program. Typically, the program allows folks to go out and buy a gift for a senior. Community members could find gift tags with a name and gift idea on Christmas trees spread throughout the community. Folks could then buy a gift and hand deliver it to the senior. This year, with COVID, gifts will be sent via Amazon.

"This year it's going to be done a little differently. We'll still put the tags up in the locations," Home Instead Community Service Manager Karen Hanson said. "But there's going to be instructions for them to go to Amazon and then they will send the gifts directly to the individuals,"

Hanson says the 15 year tradition is more important now than ever.

"Seniors haven't been able to visit family member or have them visit them in facilities," Hanson said. "So this year is even more important than years past for them to get that gift. I think we are seeing a lot of depression and loneliness and that makes it even more important to do it."

Between the Rochester and Mankato locations, Home Instead delivers gifts to about 1,000 to seniors in need. It covers 11 counties in SE Minnesota. If you'd like to buy a gift, be on the look out for Christmas trees in the community. They'll start to appear mid-November.

Beret Leone

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