If you haven’t read or heard, our region is experiencing a significant increase in COVID-19 activity. State and county data show us the extent of the increase over the past few weeks. All three of our counties are over the Minnesota state average of 77 new cases per 10,000 residents. Wadena (123) and Todd (164) counties are exceptionally high. Based on only a few business or congregate living outbreaks in the region, it’s apparent that the spread is happening in the broad community.

Some will argue the increased number of cases are related to increased testing. Yes, we see increased testing. That’s because there’s more demand based on our patients experiencing symptoms. It’s not just the number of tests. Tri-County Health Care’s number of positive tests has also increased in the same period. For many months during the pandemic, our positive test rate was between 1.5% and 2%. Anything less than 5% indicates good community control of COVID. In the past 2 weeks, our positive rate increased to 17%. This increase is another indicator that COVID is not only present but totally out of control!

The other major concern for Tri-County Health Care is how this spike in cases is affecting hospital activity. The large regional hospitals we typically transfer our most critical patients to have reached full capacity in the last two weeks. As of Nov. 5, St. Cloud was full, Sanford was near full, and there were only 16 open critical care beds in the entire state. Hospitals like Tri-County Health Care are being told not to transfer patients but instead provide care locally. For us, that means we’re keeping the least ill COVID patients who need care. This lack of hospital capacity affects more than just COVID illnesses. It also affects other types of patients with more typical medical issues like heart attacks, strokes, sepsis and serious surgical needs. The COVID demand on the critical care beds in the state and region affects the care of other patients. We are not full as of now and have not reached capacity at any point. However, the prospect that we could get to full status, like other regional hospitals, is a real concern.

Due to the increase in community infection, Tri-County Health Care has revised our patient care plans. We ask that you call 218-631-3510 before coming in with COVID-related symptoms so we may provide guidance on the arrival process. We’re also asking that you present to ReadyCare at the Emergency Department entrance. If you have COVID symptoms and come to our facility, you may be directed from the Main Entrance to our Emergency Room entrance when screened. Our goal is to separate potential COVID patients through our ReadyCare service. We’re also moving all “non-COVID care” patients out of ReadyCare for their safety. Please partner with us to keep everyone safe.

Our best way to combat COVID and its impact on our communities is to continue to use social mitigation tools and techniques. These include:

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  • Wearing a mask when out in public places and around others

  • Keeping 6 feet of distance from those not in your immediate household (that includes family members that don’t live with you)

  • Avoiding both large and small gatherings (think about this during deer hunting season)

  • Washing your hands frequently

Mitigation isn’t complicated. Even if you don’t believe COVID is real or will negatively impact you or that it’s going away now that the election is done, your individual choices affect others in a big way. You could be spreading a dangerous virus around our community.

As your community health care provider, we beg you to please take this seriously. If you want us available to provide care to whatever ails you, we need your help now more than ever.

Joel Beiswenger is president and CEO of Tri-County Health Care in Wadena