The rate of COVID-19 cases at Northfield Hospital & Clinics has dropped significantly from a few weeks ago as staff prepare to be vaccinated for protection against the virus.

Northfield Hospital and Clinics President/CEO Steve Underdahl said Thursday that the latest seven-day positivity rate was 5.25%, far below the 15% to 20% ratio a few weeks prior.

The decline at NH+C mirrors the slowing spread of the virus seen statewide. From Sunday to Monday, 1,998 positive tests were reported across the state, along with 22 newly reported deaths. Just a few weeks ago, the state was setting daily highs in deaths and cases. On Nov. 27, the state listed 101 deaths from the virus, the highest reported death toll so far. In Rice County, 5,243 confirmed and probable COVID-19 tests have been reported, including 11 from Sunday to Monday. Of those, 47 confirmed and probable deaths have been reported. Twenty five have come in long-term care facilities, 17 in private residences and five in prison.

Though Underdahl noted the drop comes after Gov. Tim Walz issued a four-week ban on indoor dining and other activities last month, he isn’t sure whether that is indicative of causation or correlation. However, Underdahl noted testing at NH+C is not a firm indicator of community prevalence, just indicative of the hospital itself.

Underdahl said COVID-19 patients have occupied 25% of 50% of inpatient beds over the last few weeks. As of midnight Dec. 16, no COVID-19 patients were hospitalized at NH+C. The hospital system is still seeing 3% to 6% of staff out sick or quarantined on a daily basis. To Underdahl, those figures not only represent a challenge from a coverage perspective, but are also “extraordinarily expensive.”

He noted vaccines represent hope, and he spoke glowingly of the quick, efficient pace scientists have worked to develop vaccines. Doses of the vaccine are expected to arrive at NH+C this week, be given at a staggered pace. The vaccination process includes two doses given over three weeks. NH+C officials have stated there is no timeline yet for vaccinating the general public. It is expected to take until February/March to vaccinate health care workers and nursing home residents across the U.S. before vaccinations begin for the general public.

Also, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently issued an Emergency Use Authorization to permit the emergency use of the Moderna vaccine for people 18 years and older.

Underdahl expects tension between NH+C employees who are anxious to quickly receive the vaccine and those who have resistance to the idea or worry about doing so. He said he wants to avoid philosophical debates on the issue and instead frame the possibility as a chance to voluntarily help end the pandemic.

“This is going to be a bigger deal than I thought initially,” he said.

Reach Associate Editor Sam Wilmes at 507-645-1115. © Copyright 2020 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All rights reserved.

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