Minnesota hospitals are again battling to provide appropriate care for everyone who needs it, but hospitals are now faced with even more challenges despite the emergence of COVID vaccines.
Last year, when hospitalizations were surging with COVID-19 patients, Minnesota's hospitals were strained by large numbers of staff who were unavailable to work after testing positive for the coronavirus or forced to quarantine for two weeks after a close contact with someone carrying the virus.
The current struggles are amplified by a confluence of issues, including staffing shortages, an unusually high level of respiratory illnesses in children, the delta variant-related COVID-19 surge, and patients receiving care that was delayed when procedures and operations were postponed due to COVID-19 in 2020.
"Staffing is a different kind of concern than it was," said Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm, during a press call Tuesday.
"The staffing shortages are actually more pronounced ... due to the incredible pressures on the healthcare workforce, the long-term care workforce and the public health workforce in the last year and a half. There have been a lot of resignations, or a lot of people leaving the field or changing locations or wanting to go to part-time just as a way of managing the stress," Malcolm explained.
The weight hospitals are carrying right now has rapidly increase in the past month with the dominance of the delta variant. Through August 23, there were 547 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 in Minnesota, including 153 in intensive care. About a month ago there were around 100 people hospitalized statewide with COVID.
"It's not the beds that are the issue," said Malcolm. "We've got plenty of beds, we've got plenty of high-tech equipment. What is in short supply are the trained staff, which is just another reason why anything we can do to keep the level of the COVID cases at a manageable level is very critical for protecting healthcare capacity for all other care as well."
Malcolm estimated that there are 2-3 times as many healthcare job openings now than normal, with even greater needs at long-term care facilities.
All of it is reason why healthcare officials are pleading with the public to get vaccinated and wear a mask when visiting indoor public spaces and crowded outdoor public venues, including the Minnesota State Fair.
State health officials continue to stress how effective the vaccines have been at preventing severe illness and hospitalization, even against the powerful delta variant.
A state health department spokesperson told Bring Me The News that it is likely that around 99% of those currently hospitalized with COVID in Minnesota are unvaccinated.
"We don’t immediately have the vaccination status of every hospitalized COVID case, so we can’t tell you the vaccination status of the specific 547 people in the hospital with COVID today, but the percentage of people who are hospitalized generally is likely close to 99% who are unvaccinated, even with the breakthrough cases we are seeing due to the Delta variant," the spokesperson said.
"We know from our breakthrough surveillance that 99.8% of vaccinated people do not become hospitalized with COVID and that mirrors earlier studies on the effectiveness of the vaccines at preventing hospitalizations and deaths."
"Delta has really changed the landscape. It's much more transmissible," said MDH Infectious Diseases Director Kris Ehresmann. "People that develop delta have a much, much higher viral load. Keep that in mind as you're considering your interactions."