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Virus Outbreak Pfizer Vaccine

Pedestrians pass by the Pfizer world headquarters, Monday, Nov. 9, 2020, in New York. (AP Photo/ Ted Shaffrey)

Local Mayo hospitals at near 100% capacity; River's Edge managing well

The Mayo Clinic Health System’s five hospitals in the Mankato region are full, due to a surge in COVID-19 cases, and health care officials are making a plea for residents to not gather for Thanksgiving.

A Mayo Clinic provider cares for an inpatient with COVID-19. Alarming increases in community exposure continues to challenge Mayo Clinic’s and Mayo Clinic Health System’s staffing and capacity to serve patients with COVID-19 and other conditions. (Photo courtesy of Mayo Clinic)

The situation is less urgent at River’s Edge Hospital in St. Peter, where the majority of 25 in-patient beds have remained available.

Mayo Clinic officials appreciate the residents who are following public health officials’ guidance to curb the spread of COVID-19, but they need everyone to do their part, Dr. James Hebl, regional vice president of the Mayo Clinic Health System, said during a press conference Friday, Nov. 20.

“We know it’s been a difficult year and we know that the holiday season is soon upon us, making this even more challenging. We also know that the holidays typically mean gathering with friends and family, however in 2020, we are asking that we do not do that this year,” Hebl said.


The Mayo Clinic Health System has seen a “very rapid rise” in COVID-19 cases and the hospitals in the Mankato region are feeling the impact on their medical and surgical bed availability, Hebl said. The Mankato and Waseca hospitals were at 100% of their capacity on Friday, the New Prague hospital was at 94% capacity, the Fairmont hospital was at 96% capacity and the St. James hospital was at 92% capacity.

At River’s Edge, which reports only six total patients in hospital beds for COVID since March, there has never been more than two COVID patients in hospital beds at a single time. Chief Quality Officer Stephanie Holden noted that the hospital continues to see asymptomatic positive cases in its Emergency Department and Urgent Care, and those patients are treated, but the hospital is not seeing a surge of patients specifically related to COVID.

COVID-19 test kits are now standard items in hospital all over. (Photo courtesy of River’s Edge Hospital)

“If it was a very, very serious COVID condition, we would likely send them a larger facility,” Holden said. “If someone has maybe a mild to moderate case, and needed to be in for a day or two for observation, that would be something we would do. We do have ventilators available if needed.”

Residents experiencing a non-COVID-19 medical emergency should continue to go to their nearest emergency room, even if the hospital is at 100% capacity, according to Dr. Brian Bartlett, emergency medicine physician with the Mayo Clinic Health System.

Hospital capacity is a “fluid” situation and a hospital may be at 100% capacity at one point, but then have an available bed due to a patient discharge, he said. Hospital capacity is also coordinated within the Mayo Clinic system and a patient can be transferred to a different facility where there is an available bed if they need to be admitted, he said. However, Mayo Clinic hospitals elsewhere are starting to reach their capacity, which may mean a patient needs to be transferred to another health care system where there’s an available bed, he said.

A COVID-19 patient’s average length of stay is four to five days in the hospital, unless it’s a severe case, which is usually at least two to three weeks in the hospital, Hebl said.

As of Friday, 141 Mayo Clinic employees in the Mankato region were absent from work due to COVID-19 restrictions. Fifty-eight of those employees had tested positive for COVID-19 and were in quarantine, and the remaining employees were in quarantine due to being exposed to a COVID-19 case, Hebl said. Ninety-six percent of the staff were exposed in the community.

River’s Edge has successfully avoided staffing issues. The hospital decided not to furlough workers in the spring, instead opting to keep everyone on and cross-train them in various departments.

“And we have had staff affected by exposures that have had to be out for that 14-day quarantine,” Holden said. “… so when we’re shorted because of COVID exposure, we can pull from other departments to help out.”


Forty-five percent of Blue Earth and Nicollet counties’ COVID-19 cases since the beginning of the pandemic have occurred in the last month, according to Dr. Katie Smentek, a COVID-19 lead physician at the Mankato clinic. Andrew Lundquist, chief medical officer of the Mankato clinic, said at the current pace of COVID-19’s spread, Blue Earth and Nicollet counties could see 1,500 new cases in the next 12 days.

“In Blue Earth and Nicollet County, if you have a group of 10 people, there’s a 42% chance that one of those people has COVID-19 right now. That’s sobering,” Lundquist said.

Dr. Raymund Razonable works with patient Jay Clark at Mayo Clinic in Rochester. (Photo courtesy of Mayo Clinic)

Health care officials know it’s difficult to stay home and away from friends and family, Smentek said. But slowing the spread of the virus is the only way to ensure there will be enough health care staff and resources to care for patients, she said.

“Remember, every interaction counts, whether it’s a hunting trip with your brothers or coffee with a friend,” she said. “Lives depend on your actions right now.”

Mayo Clinic staff is working long hours to care for patients, Smentek said. The average number of patients in their respiratory clinic has increased 104% from March to November and telehealth visits and drive-thru tests have nearly doubled in November. Their COVID-19 hotline has long waits even though they’ve more than doubled the number of nurses answering the calls.

“Our health care workers, we don’t have a second line. We’re it and we’re in danger of becoming overwhelmed,” she said.

The health system has been preparing for this surge for months and is coordinating with facilities across the region on telemedicine, virtual appointments, monitoring patients at home and transferring patients from the Mankato hospital to other hospitals, including Waseca, New Prague, St. James and Fairmount, Hebl said.

“However, there is a finite amount of resources and the reality is that this situation can and likely will become untenable if our communities do not take precautions and act now,” he said.

Holden at River’s Edge also advised the community to take action to slow the spread.

“It’s a really difficult time right now, because of the increased number of cases, and people really want to be with other people” she said. “So the advice is just to be careful; wash your hands often, use hand sanitizer; keep physical distance as much as possible; just do the things that help bring the numbers back down.”

Le Sueur watercolor painter inspired by nature, farm life and the simple pleasures

Flora, fauna and the natural world are watercolor painter Rita Prahl’s muse. A stroll through the Healing Arts exhibit at the Owatonna Hospital gives a glimpse into the Le Sueur artist’s vision.

Visitors can expect to see her backyard bird series, floral paintings and other farm animals until February as part of the fall/winter show at the hospital.

A painting from Rita Prahl’s Backyard Birds series. “The birds visit us often,” Prahl said. (Photo courtesy of Rita Prahl)

Taking inspiration from the world around her, much of Prahl’s subject matter reflects what she sees on her family farm. Farming runs in Prahl’s blood, she grew up on a farm and now lives and works on a Century farm in Sibley County, which has been in her husband’s family for six generations. Farm life has instilled values of simplicity, family and hard work, much of these values can be seen in her art.

Most of her compositions are first captured by photo to use as a reference, Prahl says. Subjects include anything that catches her eye, whether it’s a farm kitten, members of her family or flowers from her garden.

Rita Prahl paints a variety of subjects including birds, flowers, landscapes, pets, animals and people. (Photo courtesy of Rita Prahl)

“I try to sketch it out from the photo and then put the photo away and then try to remember that feeling,” Prahl said.

She estimates a painting takes about three weeks to complete. The first week involves brainstorming and figuring out how she will approach her work. The second week she will pick out the colors and start to apply the paint. With a brush in hand, Prahl says she enjoys moving the paint around creating a luminesce effect.

“By the third week I want to just look at it for days and make corrections,” Prahl said.

Watercolor can be an unpredictable and unforgiving medium. When a painting is not turning out as she had hoped, Prahl will set the piece aside and come back later with fresh eyes. At that point, she says she can usually adjust the piece to make it work.

“And it’s usually better than what you thought it would be,” Prahl said.

Although Prahl is semi-retired from farming, she still helps out when needed. As a result she says she sometimes gets up as early as 4 a.m. to focus solely on her art.

Rita Prahl also does pet portraits, which she says is highly requested. This piece is titled Earl 2. (Photo courtesy of Rita Prahl)

Prahl has had a creative side from a young age. When she was a teenager her parents enrolled her in art instruction after discovering her interest in the arts. Her parents continued to encourage her, supporting her in an online art class until she was 18. She would go on to major in graphic arts and enter the working world. After having kids she decided to stay home with her kids.

About 24 years ago, Prahl took a watercolor painting class with a friend at the Minnetonka Center for the Arts and she became hooked.

Farming has always been an important part of Rita Prahl’s life. Much of what she paints is inspired by things she sees on her family farm. (Photo courtesy of Rita Prahl)

“It was like everything that I had done up until that point was leading up to doing watercolor,” Prahl said of the therapeutic activity.

Now she is focused solely on the watercolor painting medium. Through the many years of practice, she has learned more about the medium and has learned to slow down and be in the moment while she is creating.

“You have to go slow to go fast,” Prahl said, adding that patience is key to art and life.

Cleveland follows neighboring school districts into distance learning
  • Updated
Carson Hughes / By CARSON HUGHES carson.hughes@apgsomn.com 

Students at Cleveland Public Schools are returning to distance learning as COVID-19 cases have shot up in Le Sueur County. The district canceled school Thursday and Friday to prepare staff for distance learning beginning on Nov. 23. (Photos courtesy of Scott Lusk)

Cleveland students are moving out of the classroom and into the home for the next month.

On Nov. 16 the Cleveland School Board voted to transition all grades K-12 into distance learning as COVID-19 cases rise to unprecedented levels in Le Sueur County.

“The case rate numbers are quite high — following state guidelines require the schools to move to distance learning — and projected to even go higher,” said Cleveland Superintendent Brian Phillips.

Distance learning is now recommended by the Minnesota Department of Health for schools in Le Sueur County following a jump in cases in late October and the month of November. With 51 cases per 100,000 people detected between Oct. 18 and Oct. 31, Le Sueur County surpassed the state’s 50 person case rate recommendation for distance learning. The county’s 14-day case rate is projected to grow up to 88 cases per 100,000.

Cleveland’s decision to move into distance learning follows neighboring school districts, including Le Sueur-Henderson, Tri-City United and St. Peter Public Schools. Both LS-H and TCU cited staffing shortages caused by quarantines in their decisions. Sixty-one students and 36 staff members have tested positive for the coronavirus in Le Sueur County school districts and another 404 students and 13 sports teams have had to quarantine due to being in close contact with a positive case.

Cleveland Public Schools canceled the school day for Thursday and Friday Nov. 19 and 20 to give staff time to prepare for distance learning beginning on Monday, Nov. 23.

Administration recommended that Cleveland Public School remains in distance learning until Jan. 20, but the School Board wanted to allow the district the option to transition out of distance learning before January.

Cleveland’s command team will continue to evaluate the case rate every week and make recommendations based on the numbers. The School Board will be able to review the numbers and recommendations at the next board meeting on Dec. 21.

The School Board also called for athletics to continue during distance learning until Gov. Tim Walz issued any regulations. Two days after the meeting, Walz announced an executive order prohibiting school sports for four weeks.

“Today, we are asking Minnesotans to hit pause on social activities, in-person dining, sports, and gyms — where we are seeing the largest rates of transmission – for four weeks,” said Walz. “This virus is like a wildfire — wherever there is wood to burn, it will burn.”