Intensive care units are approaching capacity and there is a shortage of health workers in Minnesota as coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths all reach levels not seen since vaccines became widely available.
All counties of the state are at high risk of community transmission, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The number of new daily cases is up 29 percent in the past two weeks and hospitalizations are up 17 percent, according to a New York Times database.
The state’s daily case average is at the highest level for 2021 and reached 2,932 on Monday, a dramatic increase since the summer when it averaged 81 daily cases.
While a month-long increase driven by the Delta virus variant is easing across much of the country, Minnesota is just one of several states in the Upper Midwest and Mountain West where the virus is on the rise. Cases are on the rise and hospitals are overwhelmed in North Dakota, Wyoming, Montana and Idaho, all of which have low vaccination rates. Some areas had to ration care and send patients to distant hospitals for treatment.
The Minnesota Department of Health said the state’s surge is overwhelming hospitals, with: rural and metropolitan areas stretched evenly.
“Even before Covid cases started to increase in this latest wave, our hospitals were very full with patients requiring care for other critical conditions,” the state’s health commissioner Jan Malcolm said at a news conference last week.
According to a health department database, 96 percent of ICU beds in Minnesota are in use, along with 93 percent of non-intensive care beds. Although the beds are nearly full, the state is equipped with ventilators to counteract the surge, Ms Malcolm said. The bigger problem now is a shortage of medical staff, she said.
“What’s important to understand is that this isn’t so much about the physical benefit of a hospital bed or a ventilator, and those were key concerns earlier in the pandemic, but now it’s really a matter of health workers’ capacity,” said Ms Malcolm. “There are fewer health professionals at work today than last year because of the extreme stress and burnout they’ve been dealing with for over 18 months now.”
dr. Kevin Croston, chief executive officer at North Memorial Health, one of Minnesota’s largest medical systems, said that “every element of our health system is incredibly stressed.”
Both hospitals run by North Memorial – North Memorial in Robbinsdale and Maple Grove Hospital – are nearing capacity and facing staff shortages that have reached “critical levels.”
“Staff vacancies are increasing, while our client base remains high,” said Mr. Croston. “We’ve taken swift action to attract and retain talent in healthcare, adding even more costs to the already tense financial picture for all of these healthcare systems.”
He also noted that all patients hospitalized with Covid had not been vaccinated.
In Minnesota, 59 percent of the state’s population is fully vaccinated, compared to 56 percent of the national population.
“Unfortunately, with the amount of virus out there and the amount of the population that is not protected by the vaccine, there is enough room for the virus to harm her,’ said Mrs Malcolm.