Minnesota is one of the country's COVID-19 hotspots and the pressure on Minneapolis hospitals was featured Wednesday on "NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt."
An ICU nurse told reporter Gabe Gutierrez that her biggest worry is "having enough beds for all the patients." Gutierrez reported that Abbott Northwestern has 30 ICU beds and they are approximately 75% filled.
"We don't really think of numbers. I just think of my patients," another nurse said.
The feature segment included an interview with Minnesotan Kelly Meeker, whose raspy voice is a result of about two months in the hospital after being infected with COVID-19 in September.
"I've never been more grateful to be alive," said Meeker, then giving advice to Minnesotans: "I'd say wear your mask because I almost died from it. It's more serious than people think."
The national spotlight on Minnesota comes as the state's hospital system is being pressed by a rapid increase in COVID-19 patients filling hospital beds. Through 4 p.m. Tuesday there were 1,299 people hospitalized in Minnesota with COVID-19, including 282 in intensive care. Less than three weeks ago, on Oct. 24, there were 580 people with COVID-19 hospitalized.
This week, Gov. Tim Walz turned back the coronavirus dials and issued an executive order that mandates all bars and restaurants close by 10 p.m. while also limiting the size of social gatherings. The hope is cut down on the number of 18 to 35 year olds who are believed to be among the primary spreaders of the virus.
Walz's presentation to the state included an alarming graphic that showed hospitals' ICU capacity in the northeast, central, metro and southeast regions of the state nearly full, and with thousands of new cases reported daily the fear is that hospitals will run out of room to treat patients with the most serious symptoms.
"What America has to understand is that we are about to enter COVID hell. It is happening," said Dr. Michael Osterholm during a Nov. 9 appearance on CNBC. "We have not even come close to the peak, and as such, our hospitals are now being overrun."
Minnesota's hospital system does have the ability to balance the load of critically ill patients by sending patients to less-strained hospitals around the state. Overall, there were 338 ICU beds immediately available statewide as of Wednesday, according to the state's response and preparation dashboard. That capacity can be increased by a further 408 beds within 72 hours.
But another critical element to maximizing bed capacity is having the skilled nursing staff healthy and available to staff ICU beds. When those healthcare workers are infected by the virus or simply exposed, they have to quarantine, thus reducing the number of available beds.
The situation in North Dakota has become so dire that Gov. Doug Burgum is allowing asymptomatic nurses to continue treating COVID-19 patients.
A similar situation is unfolding in Wisconsin, where on Wednesday the CEO of the Wisconsin Hospital Association said finding healthy staff is more challenging right now than finding unoccupied beds, according to the Wisconsin State Journal.
"Right now our real biggest concern is making sure that our hospitals and clinics have the capacity to save everyone,” said Ryan Westergaard, a chief medical officer with the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. "That tipping point is when we stop being able to save everyone who gets severely ill."