MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- Minnesota health leaders are warning people to stay at home -- not at their cabins.
Minnesota Cabin Country is well known for the peace and serenity most are craving right now. But the commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Health says those smaller communities don't have the health care capacity to absorb an influx of visitors, especially in the midst of this spreading pandemic.
Chief Tim Holmes of the Brainerd Fire Department says the migration has already begun.
"The cabins that are normally closed up all year except for one or two months of the year now have cars at them," Holmes said. "We're certainly seeing those surges already in our recreation areas. We see a lot more people coming up and trying to continue to ice fish."
But what would normally be a welcomed economic boost is now a concern, as tens of thousands could potentially filter into cabins in the Brainerd area
"We have a great community, and we certainly want people to come up here, just right now is probably not the best time to do that," Holmes said.
Dr. Deb Dittberner, chief medical officer for Alomere Health System in Alexandria, says her hospital is preparing
"All those people coming to our area eventually will overwhelm our own health care system," Holmes said. "It would be harder to take care of if all of our cabins filled up for the entire year. That would be a lot bigger population than what we would normally serve," Dittberner said. "We have a small ICU. We have just seven beds. Every hospital in the state of Minnesota is looking to be able to handle 200% of their normal volumes."
Patients who test positive for COVID-19 at Dr. Dittberner's hospital will be sent to St. Cloud. She says for most small towns, patients would be sent closer to major cities for critical care
"If you got very sick with COVID, you would need to go to another hospital," Dittberner said. "So it would be an ambulance ride or a helicopter ride to the people that can help you."
Beyond overloading smaller health care system, there are other reasons to skip the trip to the cabin.
"There's lots of reasons you stay close to home, because that's where your support system is, that's where your primary care physician is," she said.
Gov. Tim Walz also noted that now is not the time for everyone to head to their favorite state park up north. Also, social distancing rules still apply when you're outside.
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