Staffing shortages coupled with an explosion of RSV in children, COVID-19 cases affecting people of all ages, and an unusually busy trauma season have put Minnesota hospitals in a situation that state health commissioner Jan Malcolm calls a "capacity crisis."
The raw numbers show what appears to be a dire situation that healthcare workers are battling, especially when it comes to caring for children.
"COVID cases are going up and they've been going up steadily for quite some time now," said Malcolm. "Current levels of hospitalization and ICU use are now above the levels that we saw in the spring '21 surge."
She said just 1% of staffed hospital beds are available in the metro region, along with only 5% in the southeast region and 7% in the central region of Minnesota.
"Across the state we have more hospitals reporting that they have zero adult medical surgical beds and zero adult ICU beds available during this latest surge, and these are numbers we didn't see even in the worst of last year's fall surge," said Malcolm.
She called the current capacity crisis for pediatric cases "quite extraordinary."
Per Malcolm, there are zero pediatric hospital beds available in the central region of Minnesota, just two in the southeast region, 1 each in the northwest and south-central regions, and 7 in the metro region.
On Thursday, there were no available pediatric ICU beds available in the southeast region and only 7 in the metro region.
Dr. Marc Gorelick, president and CEO at Children's Minnesota, said the unprecedented summer and early fall spread of RSV in children has been a major problem and noted that COVID isn't the "primary" cause for concern but it could "push us over the top."
"All of this has led to record hospital occupancy, a near doubling of ER visits since last spring and a 17% increase in the last month alone, and hundreds of additional children seeking care in our outpatient clinics and our urgent care each day," said Gorelick.
Malcolm was joined Thursday on the press call with other Minnesota hospital leaders to stress the importance of controlling what can be controlled, namely getting the COVID-19 and influenza vaccines (you can get both at the same time) to help prevent serious illness from the viruses that could further threaten hospital capacity.
Dr. Kevin Croston, chief executive officer at North Memorial Health, said "every element of our health system is incredibly stressed," noting that North Memorial in Robbinsdale and Maple Grove Hospital "have full ICUs and full medical surgical units."
"Our current hospital experience reveals that 100% of our patients who are Covid-positive in our ICUs are unvaccinated, and of the Covid-positive patients in our medical-surgical unit, 75% are unvaccinated. There's a clear distinction here," said Crosten.
Earlier this week, Dr. Gregory Poland, an infectious disease expert at the Mayo Clinic, said "we are now at a point where the only way we're going to defeat this is to be fully vaccinated and wear masks."
Poland believes that because cases appear to be dropping on a national level (not here in Minnesota) it will lead to people abandoning masks, which he thinks will be "followed by a surge in infuenza cases, RSV cases and COVID-19 cases."
"Mark my words," Poland said.
Crosten said North Memorial Health is treating patients this year that are "much sicker" than they typically care for, in addition to trauma volumes that have "escalated dramatically." He said July was North Memorial's busiest July of all time and "every month seems like it breaks another record."
Meanwhile, there are no signs that the current COVID wave is going to suddenly wane, though Malcolm admitted that attempting predict how this wave will evolve is a bit of a guessing game.
"With the amount of virus that's out there and the amount of the population that's not protected by the vaccine, there's unfortunately plenty of room for the virus to do its harm," said Malcolm.