Coronavirus surges across Midwest strain staffing, intensive care capacity

As the U.S. broke past 100,000 new daily coronavirus cases on Wednesday, some states across the Midwest reported grappling with strained staffing and nearing intensive care capacity, per news reports.

Across Minnesota, for instance, state director of infectious disease Kris Ehresmann said 92% of beds in intensive care units (ICUs) were full, per the Duluth News Tribune. Jan Malcolm, health commissioner, elaborated on the dire situation to reporters on a call, the outlet reported.

“We know hospitalizations lag behind case growth, and mortality lags behind hospitalizations,” Malcolm said. “So as these numbers continue to go up, we are concerned about capacity in a lot of different contexts … these numbers straining many of our critical systems.”

Multiple officials said the problem lies in staffing strains. (iStock)

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The news comes amid a letter from Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz to FEMA to prolong staffing support for another 30 days, per multiple reports, citing a record 908 hospitalized patients (with 203 in intensive care) on Wednesday. Walz took to Twitter the day before, writing, “The virus takes no days off. … We are in a dark chapter in the story of this pandemic.”

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Walz was not alone in sounding the alarm for help. Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds announced Tuesday another $28 million in relief for the state’s hospitals and county health departments to address staffing needs, per a news release. The funding comes from the state’s allocated $1.25 billion from the federal CARES Act.

“As COVID-19 continues to impact Iowans, it is putting strain on both staffing at our hospitals as well as local public health departments,” Reynolds said in the release. “These added funds will provide much-needed relief to hospitals to support their staffing needs in this critical time. They will also support Iowa’s county health departments, which are facing continued and ongoing increases in workload.”  

The latest figures from the Iowa Department of Public Health reported 839 hospitalized coronavirus patients by Wednesday, up from 777 the day prior. Meanwhile, a reported 188 patients were in intensive care, up by six patients from the day before. On Oct. 30, doctors in eastern Iowa forewarned about coming danger given the concerning rate of new cases, per CBS 2 Iowa.

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“The level that we’ve seen in the last four day[s] if it continues to rise is an unsustainable level,” said Dr. Tony Myers of Mercy Medical Center in Cedar Rapids, the outlet wrote. “It really has nothing to do with space, negative pressure rooms, ventilators, medical supplies, protective equipment. It has really nothing to do with that. There is a point where you don’t have enough critical care staffing capacity to take care of an ever increasing number.”

Health leaders in North Dakota echoed that the issue arises from staffing strains, instead of a shortage of physical ICU beds, according to a separate report.

“We North Dakotans are in crisis,” Dr. Jeffrey Sather, chief of staff at Trinity Hospital in Minot, told reporters on Nov. 3, an outlet wrote. A spokeswoman for the hospital, Karim Tripodina, reportedly confirmed that approximately 140 staff had gone under quarantine at some point by last week.

“Being at capacity is a reality — not just here in Minot but across the state,” Sather said, per a local Bismarck outlet, Inforum. “The general population doesn’t realize the struggles that health systems are going through unless you or your family is one of those patients getting transferred across the state … or laying on an ER gurney rather than a hospital bed for 24 hours or more.”

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