COVID-19 puts pressure on Minn. hospitals

Meister urges vaccination, COVID precautions to help keep public healthy

MARSHALL — High rates of COVID-19 spread have been putting a strain on Minnesota health care providers. Area hospitals are feeling it too, Avera Marshall Medical Center’s chief medical officer said Tuesday.

“We are still operating at or above capacity,” said Dr. Steven Meister. It’s not a problem limited to one hospital system, state or area, he said. “It’s the entire upper Midwest.”

Last week, about 125 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 across the Avera health system, which serves South Dakota and parts of Minnesota, North Dakota, Nebraska and Iowa. At the same time the number of COVID patients has increased in the region, other health needs haven’t gone away. Meister said pandemic-related worker shortages are also affecting health care providers.

In late November, Meister recorded a video for Avera Marshall’s social media, urging the public to help keep people healthy by getting vaccinated and taking COVID safety precautions.

“The best way that people can help us is to get vaccinated,” Meister said. The majority of the people who are now hospitalized with COVID-19 are unvaccinated, he said.

On Tuesday, Meister spoke with the Independent about how Avera Marshall is being affected by COVID-19.

Meister said COVID transmission rates have been high in southwest Minnesota. CDC data for the week of Dec. 4 through Dec. 10 showed Lyon County had a COVID-19 positivity rate of almost 11%, he said.

Almost all of Minnesota had high levels of community spread of COVID, the CDC said.

As of Monday, a total of 352 people were in intensive care with COVID-19 across Minnesota, according to data from Minnesota’s COVID dashboard. An additional 1,284 people across the state were hospitalized with COVID, but not in the ICU.

In southwest Minnesota, only two staffed adult ICU beds were available, state data said. Other regions around the state were also facing a shortage of staffed ICU beds.

On Monday, the Minnesota Department of Health reported more than 9,000 new cases of COVID-19 across the state, including 20 confirmed cases among Lyon County residents. Since the start of the pandemic, 9,964 Minnesotans have died of COVID-19, MDH data said.

At a more local level, more than 5,000 cases of COVID have been confirmed in Lyon County since the start of the pandemic. A total of 63 Lyon County residents have died.

Meister said health care facilities like Avera Marshall have seen a growing number of patients with COVID-19 since late October. With patients still needing medical care for other reasons, hospitals have more beds filled than usual. Plus, COVID patients also tend to be in the hospital for longer periods of time, he said.

Although hospitals are facing added pressure from the COVID pandemic, Meister said Avera Marshall works with other health care facilities in the Avera system to get patients the level of care they need. Sometimes this means having to transfer area patients to other hospitals.

At the same time, Meister said, “We are accepting people, when we have room, from all over the state.” Sometimes patients may be transferred in from neighboring states, too.

Meister said one way Avera Marshall has adapted to health care needs during the COVID pandemic is through the Avera@Home Care Transitions program. Physicians can refer an at-risk patient who tests positive for COVID-19 to the program, and the patient can receive resources like a pulse oximeter and daily phone calls to monitor their symptoms at home. Meister said the program has been a big help at keeping people out of the hospital.

Pandemic-related worker shortages have also affected hospitals, Meister said. On top of having an increased number of patients, health care workers and hospital staff can also get sick. When that happens, it leads to staff shortages and longer waits at emergency rooms or clinics.

“You know you’re here to take care of people. But it gets hard. It gets tough,” Meister said of the pressure on health care providers during the pandemic.

“We just ask people for grace,” and to be patient, Meister said. It’s also important to follow a health care facility’s COVID safety restrictions, like mask requirements. “It’s just to keep everyone as safe as possible.”

Another key way to help health care workers is to get vaccinated for COVID-19, Meister said. He also encouraged members of the public to get COVID booster shots if they have been vaccinated.

Avoiding contact with people if you’re sick, and getting tested for COVID-19 if you have symptoms like a cough, are also important to help prevent the spread of the virus. It’s especially important during the holiday season when more people are planning gatherings.

“Don’t go to family gatherings if you’re sick,” Meister said.

If people travel during the holiday season, they should also be aware that different places may have different COVID safety rules and restrictions, Meister said. Those could include mandatory mask-wearing indoors or needing to show proof of COVID vaccination, he said.


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