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'Help Us': Minnesota ICUs Approaching Full Capacity As Daily COVID Cases Explode

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- Minnesota health leaders call the current spread of COVID-19 "alarming."

The Minnesota Department of Health reported more than 3,800 new cases Wednesday, which is a new daily record. Another 31 Minnesotans have also died from the disease.

The all-time high comes with a dire warning. MDH officials say ICU capacity in the metro is at 98% use. Statewide, 92% of ICU beds are full -- and health officials expect to see 4,000 cases a day soon.

Think of it like a raging wildfire. COVID "fires" are surrounding Minnesota in states like the Dakotas and Wisconsin, the latter breaking its single-day record with nearly 6,000 cases Wednesday. This virus is looking for tinder to feed on, and it's finding that fuel across the entire state of Minnesota.

In Alexandria, Dr. Deb Dittberner's ICU is full, and COVID patients keep showing up.

"It has changed so quickly, I'll really just say since Friday," Dittberner said. "Right now in Douglas County, we have 213 active cases. We're a small county, 213. We have been running about 80 to 110 active cases, which is a lot."

Normally, Dittberner's hospital would send COVID patients to St. Cloud for more critical care. But this morning, ICU beds there were also full.

"We're trying to get them to a higher level of care when we can, but it's tight. And it's a real struggle in the emergency room trying to find beds anywhere in Minnesota," Dittberner said.

With 92% of the state's ICU beds full, this tight squeeze is something doctors are dealing with across the state, according to MDH Commissioner Jan Malcolm.

"This is our fourth day now of more than 3,000 new cases in a day, and I'm afraid we need to brace ourselves for hitting 4,000 cases at some point in the very near future," Malcolm said.

MDH says the hot spots are in greater Minnesota, specifically in the western and central parts of the state. And with Minnesota's positivity rate and daily case totals on the rise, hospitals face new challenges.

"We have the PPE now, but now we know the new critical part and piece of this is our staffing," Dittberner said.

She says many in her circle feel more prepared to care for COVID patients now, but they hope residents can help slow the spread in the little ways you can.

"I would plea to the public to help us," Dittberner said.

If, or when, ICUs across the state fill up, healthcare workers will have to work overtime. Dittberner says they have already had to move around staffing already in Alexandria.

The shutting down or reducing of elective surgeries and procedures is also a possibility again. MDH is even looking into the dire staffing scenario where exposed healthcare workers would come back to work in a non-patient-serving capacity and work in full PPE. They are still coming up with guidance for that if it comes to it.


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