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COVID-19 Cases Surge Locally, Statewide; Hospital Access Impacted

By Tim Douglass, Originally Published in the Pope County Tribune, November 16, 2020

This area, like the state and much of the Midwest, is surging in identified cases of COVID-19.

In just two months, the five-county area served by Horizon Public Health went from 364 total cases of COVID-19 on Sept. 1, to 2,300 cases on Nov. 13. The five-county area served includes Pope, Douglas, Stevens, Grant and Traverse Counties.

Currently, there are 88 active cases in Pope County alone that are known and in isolation, according to the Horizon Public Health COVID-19 statistics website. Pope County this week reported 361 total cases since the pandemic began in March, up 118 cases in one week. (Visit www.horizonpublichealth.org for up-to-date information for this area.)

Minnewaska School District also returned to distance learning this week for students in grades 7 through 12. That decision was made based on the local surge in cases of COVID-19 as well as high numbers of school staff in quarantine and lack of substitute teachers and staff to take their place, it was reported by the Minnewaska School District.

Statewide, the numbers are bleaker. In Minnesota, record numbers of cases and deaths have been recorded in the past 10 days, with the predicted fall surge coming to Minnesota as well as neighboring states like North Dakota, South Dakota, Wisconsin, and Iowa. On Nov. 11, the state recorded the highest daily number of deaths (56) attributed to COVID-19. Since March, 2,905 Minnesotans have died from COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

The number of cases statewide has jumped from the mid-hundreds per day in August to more than 5,000 per day in November. Currently, there are 223,581 cumulative cases since the pandemic began in earnest in March. Of that number about 172,873 (cumulative) no longer need isolation. Hospitalizations in Minnesota are currently on the rise as well, with more than 130 people each day hospitalized for COVID-19 just since October 27. The highest daily hospitalization number was 233 on November 10 and the total number hospitalized ( cumulative) stands at 13,074.

GRHS Seeing Significant Increase in Positive Cases

Glacial Ridge Health System (GRHS) is seeing a significant increase in the number of patients that have been testing positive for COVID-19. Community spread has definitely increased since mid-October. Fortunately, GRHS continues to have an excellent supply of personal protective equipment along with the necessary cleaning and disinfectant supplies to help keep patients and staff safe, it was stated by GRHS officials.

“With the seven hospitals we normally transfer critical care patients to being at or near capacity, we have been experiencing difficulty finding hospitals that can take our critical patients,” GRHS officials said last Thursday. GRHS has been experiencing this trend for the past four weeks, and the situation across the state is expected to worsen.

The COVID unit at GRHS has been set up since March and staff were trained in preparation to care for patients with COVID needing hospitalization. From September through mid-November, GRHS has averaged 1 to 5 patients per day in the COVID unit.

“It is important to note that staff in this unit are dedicated to strictly caring for these patients their entire shift. Other staff are assigned to care for non-COVID patients with hospital rooms in a separate area,” it was stated.

GRHS continues to encourage our community members who have concerns about COVID symptoms to contact its dedicated COVID hotline at 320-334-5481 for screening and further instructions. It is answered 24 hours a day.

Don’t Delay – Seek Essential and Emergency Care!

“It is important for everyone to not delay their necessary medical care out of fear. We’ve seen what happens when patients put off going to the doctor. Their conditions are not properly managed, and they become very ill, often requiring hospitalization. Seek essential and preventative care to stay healthy during the pandemic.

“Glacial Ridge Hospital Emergency Department is always open and our staff are keeping patients safe while at the facility. There are dedicated areas in the ER for treatment of patients with non-COVID/respiratory conditions. Additional cleaning and disinfecting protocols have been in place since last spring for an additional layer of protection. If you have an emergency, do not hesitate to call 911 or come to the ER for care. Symptoms of a serious illness, stroke, heart attack or having a serious injury should not be ignored or care delayed.

“GRHS is committed to caring for our community. We strongly encourage people to follow the recommended precautions to keep themselves and others safe and healthy. Now is not the time to become lax – now more than ever is the time to do what you can individually. Be responsible in your actions and help reduce community transmission. We all need to do our part to avoid unknowingly transmitting or obtaining the virus and becoming ill.”

New Statewide Restrictions Announced

At the beginning of the pandemic, Gov. Tim Walz asked Minnesotans to help slow the spread of the virus as hospitals built up capacity to ensure they could care for everyone who falls ill. That extra capacity is now being put to the test as the virus spreads quickly across the state, region, and country, according to information provided by the governor’s office last week. “More people are getting sick, including our health care workers, which is impacting hospitals’ ability to provide care even when there are enough actual hospital beds. These factors have caused hospital bed capacity to hover above 95 percent in many areas,” according to information from the Minnesota Health Department.

With the latest surge, the governor announced last week additional restrictions in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19 in Minnesota. [Details of the governor’s restrictions removed for brevity.]

“Minnesota is in a dangerous phase of the pandemic with a dramatic jump in new cases,” said Commissioner of Health, Jan Malcolm, at a news conference in early November. “We’ve seen in other states how bad things can get when you have this kind of growth, and that’s why it’s critical that we take the right actions now to slow the spread of this disease. These focused actions taken by Governor Walz are designed to address some of the hottest of the hot spots we’ve seen and reduce the burden on our health care system and the heroes providing care to all of us.”

“Minnesota is at a critical juncture in the pandemic, and if we don’t take action now we will be overwhelmed and facing the tragic scenario seen in neighboring states,” said Dr. Michael Osterholm, director of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) and a newly appointed member of President-elect Biden’s COVID-19 advisory board. “Minnesotans need to be aware that overwhelmed health care systems will result in a catastrophic impact from a public health standpoint and also from an economic and social standpoint.”


– From the Pope County Board Chair – Gordy Wagner, and the Pope County Board of Commissioners

A small sacrifice.

That is what we, as your county board, are asking you to make. Please wear a mask when in a store or other public buildings, and keep at least six feet from the person next to you. And don’t forget to thoroughly wash your hands for 20 seconds. These are small inconveniences that we can do for our neighbors, our health care workers, our first responders, and all essential workers in Pope County. Compare these three things to the sacrifices made by the Greatest Generation, and we think you will see they pale in comparison. World War II lasted four years with over 400,000 US fatalities and 670,000 wounded. That is a real sacrifice. Now think of the sacrifice on the home front where rationing, blackouts, months and years without a son or daughter at home, and not knowing if they ever would return home. More real sacrifice.

Now compare those real sacrifices to the small inconvenience of wearing a mask. Refusal to wear a mask as a political statement makes us all weak. We are now in a very dangerous period of this pandemic, with our nation experiencing nearly 240,000 fatalities. While the experts told us it was coming, we have failed to heed their advice to take simple precautions. So, we want to remind you that this is real, it is here in Pope County, and we implore you to listen to and follow the advice of the health officials or it will only get worse. A small sacrifice that we all can make. Thank you and stay safe.