Mayo Clinic Health System, Waseca

The Mayo Clinic Health System’s Waseca hospital was at 100% of its capacity on Friday, Nov. 20 due to the surge in COVID-19 cases in the region. (File photo/southernminn.com)

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.

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, Hebl said.

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.

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.

Waseca County had 191 new COVID-19 cases from Nov. 13-20. Only one of those cases occurred in the federal prison in Waseca and the remainder were occurring in the community, according to Waseca County data.

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.

Reach Associate Editor Lisa Kaczke at 507-444-2371. ©Copyright 2020 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All rights reserved.

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