May 20, 2020
To: All WACOSA staff and stakeholders
From: Steve H., Executive Director
Re: COVID-19 Update
In keeping with our promise, we are writing to inform you of a recent development regarding our ability to reopen in the near future. Regrettably, we received word from the Minnesota Department of Human Services today that programs that provide services like WACOSA will not be permitted to reopen at this time. Concern around individuals in congregate living situations and the recent spike in COVID-19 cases is one reason behind this decision, in addition to time spent in close proximity with one another. (Please see the notification from DHS below)
While we are disappointed with this news, we will continue to do our best to keep you posted regarding important new updates or changes. Please stay connected with WACOSA’s various sources of information as we move into the summer months in order to get as up-to-the-minute information regarding the re-establishment of our services.
Thanks for your continued patience with this difficult situation. Please stay healthy and safe.
BELOW IS THE LETTER RECEIVED FROM THE MINNESOTA DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN SERVICES, DATED 05/20/2020.
As I wrote last week, when Governor Walz announced the shift from Stay at Home MN to Stay Safe MN we began to explore the steps necessary to re-open day center services for people with disabilities.
We have been working with the Minnesota Organization for Habilitation and Rehabilitation (MOHR) to develop the strongest guidelines possible to protect the health of employees and people we support. This included hygiene, distancing, masking, screening, operating at 50% capacity, allowing twice the space per person, and creating cohorts of less than 10 people that don’t intermix with other cohorts.
We have also worked with the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) to develop appropriate masking strategies for people with disabilities, consider guidance for what to do if someone tests positive for COVID-19, and look at the possibilities of allowing center-based and remote services.
In consultation with MDH, we have identified two important health and safety considerations we have not been able to mitigate in order to open day services for people with disabilities at this time.
The first issue – and the greatest at this time – is the recent number of positive COVID-19 cases in group homes for people with disabilities. After COVID-19 first appeared in nursing and assisted living facilities, some 5% of small congregate care sites like group homes have now also experienced positive COVID-19 cases.
Many of the individuals who use day services live in group homes. While we are trying to slow the spread of COVID-19 in group homes, it would be a mistake to bring people together into day centers every day and send them back to their homes potentially exposed to the virus. This could undermine our mitigation strategies in those residential settings.
Our second issue is the increased risk of COVID-19 when we have more, closer and longer exposures to people who are COVID-19 positive. We are just beginning to understand that another risk factor in contracting COVID-19 is the length of time we are exposed to people who are positive. There is a difference between moving around a grocery store for 20 minutes and sitting in a restaurant for 2 hours. Day services facilities have people interacting with each other for 6 hours a day. If anyone shares a cohort with a COVID-19 positive colleague, their risk of contracting the virus is greater.
So, while I apologize for raising the hopes of our day services providers and staff that we might be able to support their reopening, it is our best judgement, based on the best health advice we have, that it would be too risky to re-open day centers at this time. While we understand the many challenges this creates for you and the people you serve, protecting the health and safety of vulnerable Minnesotans is our first priority.
At the request of the MOHR association, we are looking at allowing day services providers to provide more remote services to residents of group homes. We will communicate more as soon as we can, and we will continue to work with MOHR to explore other solutions to support these important community-based services.
We will continue to assess the situation regularly throughout the pandemic and we’ve agreed to discuss the current situation with MOHR every other week to see what new guidance we can develop to allow you to support Minnesotans with disabilities.
Thank you for who you are for your neighbors in Minnesota.
Jodi Harpstead, Commissioner
Minnesota Department Human Services