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Minnesota will open a second alternative care facility in an effort to help relieve stress felt by hospitals amid the most recent COVID surge.

This new skilled-nursing facility will be located at Good Samaritan Society – Bethany in Brainerd, Gov. Tim Walz announced Wednesday. It will include emergency staffing help from 14 Minnesota National Guard members as well as nine federal nurses. 

The first of these sites opened in Shakopee last week.

Walz had laid out his plan for such sites in October, when hospital capacity was hanging on by a thread. The situation remains critical, with state health officials Wednesday describing the current situation as a "COVID blizzard." 

Read more: Minnesota in the midst 'truly alarming ... COVID blizzard'

Minnesota, for the second day in a row, set a record for the number of hospitalizations this year, and is currently experiencing levels not seen since December of 2020. The vast majority of those hospitalized are unvaccinated, with fully vaccinated individuals significantly less likely to experience severe symptoms.

"We need all Minnesotans to recognize the fact that in a pandemic storm like this one caused by the delta variant, individual decisions have implications," Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said earlier Wednesday, referring to the 40% of Minnesotans who remain unvaccinated. "Implications not only for the person but for their families, their communities and in fact the entire state." 

The Brainerd space, which began operations Wednesday, will be able to take up to 34 patients, with the goal of helping relieve hospitals in central and northern Minnesota.

The two alternative care sites have a specific purpose. Hospital patients who are no longer in need of acute emergency care, but aren't actually well enough to go home, can be transferred to one of these skilled-nursing facilities. That could be someone recovering from surgery, for example.

Normally, these patients would go to a long-term care facility, the governor's office said. But those sites are experiencing a shortage of beds and staff, meaning recovering patients end up staying in a hospital bed — exacerbating the current strain on available hospital beds.

Related: 6 counties with low vaccination rates finally inch above 50% among 12+ population

The alternative care sites are expected to help free up some of those beds.

“Our new alternative care sites will treat Minnesotans on the road to recovery so our hospitals can focus on providing care for our most critical patients, including those sick with COVID-19," Walz said in a statement. "We’re forging a coalition to assist our hospitals. By working with our partners at long-term care facilities, the federal government, and the National Guard, we’re helping make sure we have the capacity to care for those who need it."

Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan, who recently tested positive for COVID, echoed what state health officials said earlier.

“We’re providing emergency resources at this critical time, but any Minnesotan can do their part to help," she said. "If you haven’t yet, please get vaccinated."

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