Minnesotans with disabilities must be extra-vigilant during the current COVID-19 or novel coronavirus pandemic. Restrictions change daily due to the rapidly evolving situation.
According to MDH Commissioner Jan Malcolm, recommendations to slow the spread of disease show that every Minnesota resident and organization has an important role to play in protecting state residents.
“We know these strategies will impact the lives of all Minnesotans, but we are hopeful we can reduce the impacts of this outbreak by working together,” Malcolm said. “All Minnesotans share the risks and the responsibilities now.”
Many events have been canceled, ranging from conferences and galas to the Minnesota State High School League’s adapted floor hockey tournament. Most states have canceled school, with many K-12 schools, colleges and universities going to online programs.
Nursing homes and hospitals around Minnesota have restricted or banned visitors. Most public places have shut down or are offering limited services. For example, most clinics have canceled or asked patients to delay non-essential visits.
Those considered to be at highest risk for contracting COVID-19 include people age 60 and over, and people with pre-existing conditions including diabetes, heart, lung or kidney diseases. Persons with asthma or other pre-existing respiratory issues should also be careful. Many people with disabilities already have pre-existing conditions and/or compromised immune systems, so extra care is needed to avoid becoming ill.
Rather than be afraid, everyone must take precautions and prepare for changing times. The virus that causes COVID-19 is spread primarily by respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes, much like how influenza spreads. It can be spread if people are within six feet of someone with the virus. Put distance between oneself and other people if COVID-19 is spreading in the community. This is especially important for people who are at higher risk of getting very sick, especially people with disabilities.
COVID-19 can also spread when people touch contaminated surfaces and then touch their eyes, nose or mouth. It is an emerging respiratory disease, and more is learned about it every day.
If possible, self-isolate. Work from home if at all possible. Talk to medical professionals and home health care suppliers, to have an adequate supply of medications and medical supplies. Avoid unnecessary travel.
Wash hands often, for at least 20 seconds at a time, with soap and water. Wash hands before and after meals, after using the restroom and after coming home. After being in a public place, wash hands after leaving. Also wash hands after blowing one’s nose, coughing or sneezing. Throw away tissues after using them.
If soap and water aren’t available use hand sanitizer containing at least 60 percent alcohol. Cover all surfaces of hands and rub them together until they feel dry.
People should be extra-conscious of the need to regularly wash hands, and not touch faces, eyes and mouths. Cover coughs and sneezes. Frequently clean and disinfect often-used surfaces.
Direct care staff and family members of people with disabilities should be especially vigilant to take precautions with hands-on care, as well as with proper disposal of medical wastes.
Cough, fever and difficulty breathing are symptoms of COVID-19. Emergency warning signs include difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, pain in abdomen or chest, severe or constant vomiting, sudden dizziness and confusion.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is recommending that gatherings with 50 or more people be postponed until mid-May. It recommends cancellation of any gathering of 10 or more people from higher-risk populations. Gatherings of any size should only be carried out with care. There have even been calls for a 14-day national shutdown, to control the spread of the virus.
COVID 19 is present in several Minnesota counties, and more people are testing positive for the virus each day. Daily updates on the location of cases by county can be found at the MDH Situation Update website.
MDH has announced community-level strategies to help slow the spread of COVID-19. The broad set of recommendations will remain in place until further notice, and touch on many aspects of society, including families, faith-based organizations, employers, assisted living facilities, schools and health care settings. Each strategy is designed to make person-to-person transmission less likely by reducing the close-contact interactions that tend to result in passing along the illness.
A close-contact interaction is considered to be one where people are within six feet of each other, for 10 minutes or more.
“For everyone, the responsibility first and foremost is to stay home when you are sick,” Malcolm said. “I want to make it clear that this applies to everyone – no exceptions during a serious outbreak like this. For communities and organizations, the responsibility means making temporary adjustments to events, operations and activities to help make person-to-person transmission less likely.”
Many resources are available to help people affected by COVID-19. United Way 211 can help with resources and referrals for help with food, living situations and transportation. So can county human services offices.
More COVID-19 information can be found on the MDH COVID-19 website.
MDH has set up a COVID-19 public hotline that is open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. The hotline number is 651-201-3920.
Other websites with useful information include:
- The CDC website has several pages devoted to COVID-19.
- The Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS) has many useful tips, at their Coronavirus (COVID-19) Partner Toolkit.
- Another good resource is the Administration for Community Living website.