Inside the walls of the intensive care unit at Brainerd’s Essentia Health-St. Joseph’s Medical Center, Dr. Greg Davis treats those who are on the precipice of life or death.

Specializing in both critical care and pulmonary medicine — or the treatment of the respiratory system — Davis’ two areas of training have collided frequently during the last 18 months of the COVID-19 pandemic. Having seen all manner of illnesses and injuries come through the ICU doors, Davis said the arrival of the novel coronavirus marked the beginning of what’s been a long, unparalleled time in his career, of which he’s spent the last 12 years with Essentia Health.

“It’s never been like this, where we’re a year and a half in and we’re pretty full all the time,” Davis said during an interview Friday, Sept. 17. “We have people on the ventilators from this disease process, you know, continuously.”

Dr. Greg Davis with ventilators in the intensive care unit Friday, Sept. 17, 2021, at the Essentia Health-St. Joseph's Medical Center in Brainerd. 
Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch
Dr. Greg Davis with ventilators in the intensive care unit Friday, Sept. 17, 2021, at the Essentia Health-St. Joseph's Medical Center in Brainerd. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

Friday afternoon, Davis said five of the 10 ICU beds at the Brainerd hospital were occupied by people suffering from acute respiratory distress syndrome caused by COVID-19, one of whom was approximately 30 days into their stay. None were vaccinated.

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“Right now, we’re as busy as we’ve ever been with COVID,” Davis said. “ … One of the things with these patients is they tend to be in the ICU for a long, long time. So it sort of makes it like trying to function with a five-bed ICU when we have folks there for a while.”


“My feeling this week has been, it’s so easy to get two shots. It’s so hard to be on your face on a ventilator for weeks.”

— Dr. Greg Davis, intensive care physician


The recent spate of hospitalizations in the state and locally are just some of the hundreds of COVID-19 patients Davis said he’s treated. He said he knew of just three patients he’d personally encountered in the hospital with COVID-19 who’d been vaccinated, and knew of no instances of people requiring hospitalization because of the vaccine itself.

“I would just like to impress upon people that the vaccine is safe and effective. And it’s necessary. We need people’s help to get vaccinated. Not that everyone’s going to come to the ICU, they’re not,” Davis said. “But even if you get infected and you spread it, you know, that person might come to the ICU or the person they spread it to. … I wish that people would think of it as a patriotic sort of thing, or you know, as a golden rule kind of thing. Just help each other out.

Dr. Greg Davis and Lindsey Korte, registered nurse, work in the intensive care unit Friday, Sept. 17, 2021, at the Essentia Health-St. Joseph's Medical Center in Brainerd. 
Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch
Dr. Greg Davis and Lindsey Korte, registered nurse, work in the intensive care unit Friday, Sept. 17, 2021, at the Essentia Health-St. Joseph's Medical Center in Brainerd. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

“My feeling this week has been, it’s so easy to get two shots. It’s so hard to be on your face on a ventilator for weeks.”

In addition to treating patients and keeping his team’s morale boosted in the face of difficult circumstances, Davis finds himself addressing misinformation from all sides, something he said he’s never experienced before to this degree. Earlier Friday, a nurse asked him for advice on how to debunk something her mother found on social media. He sees community members share outrageously incorrect information, such as accusing doctors of purposefully poisoning COVID-19 patients or withholding medications that would allegedly provide a cure.

“I know there’s a lot of misinformation out there, and people can spout numbers like crazy, but I’ll tell you what I wish is, we could have a TV crew follow me around in the hospital every day. And I will tell you, no one is a doubter when they come to the hospital,” Davis said.

Intensive care unit Friday, Sept. 17, 2021, at the Essentia Health-St. Joseph's Medical Center in Brainerd. 
Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch
Intensive care unit Friday, Sept. 17, 2021, at the Essentia Health-St. Joseph's Medical Center in Brainerd. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

Davis said he’s encountered a number of patients who came in as skeptics and left with changed perspectives. He recalled a local patient he treated recently whose story sticks in his mind.

“He said to me, ‘I have to be to work on Tuesday.’ I looked him in the eyes and I said, ‘I hope you’re alive on Tuesday.’ And he was in the hospital for five weeks. But he’s alive,” Davis said. “ … So he’s a believer now, and everyone is, you know, when they get critically ill or their loved one gets critically ill.”

Davis said beyond the misinformation’s harmful impact on patients and its contributions to vaccine hesitancy, he said it’s hurtful to see himself and his colleagues the target of accusations and mistrust.


"He said to me, ‘I have to be to work on Tuesday.’ I looked him in the eyes and I said, ‘I hope you’re alive on Tuesday.’"

— Dr. Greg Davis, intensive care unit physician


“People are working very hard. Nurses are working hard, respiratory therapists, our housekeeping — everyone is working very hard, and everyone is short-staffed because a lot of people have sort of burned out,” Davis said. “ … We have a great team. Every aspect of care you get will be great, but we’d certainly like to not see you in the ICU.”

Dr. Greg Davis works in the intensive care unit Friday, Sept. 17, 2021, at the Essentia Health-St. Joseph's Medical Center in Brainerd. 
Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch
Dr. Greg Davis works in the intensive care unit Friday, Sept. 17, 2021, at the Essentia Health-St. Joseph's Medical Center in Brainerd. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

Hospitalizations, cases

According to an Essentia Health spokesperson, 67 patients were hospitalized with COVID-19 across the entire system. That is 14 more patients than two weeks earlier, when the health care system hosted a news conference to express the urgency of the situation hospitals in the state are experiencing. Nine of those patients are in the Brainerd lakes area, including the five in intensive care mentioned by Davis.

Since the pandemic began, 425 Crow Wing County COVID-positive residents spent time in the hospital, according to statistics provided by Crow Wing County Public Health. This includes 26 people who tested positive in August and 10 people so far in September. Among those most recently admitted to intensive care are a 39-year-old woman who tested positive Sept. 8 and was admitted to the ICU Sunday and a 38-year-old man who both tested positive and was admitted Sept. 4.

Dr. Greg Davis works in the intensive care unit Friday, Sept. 17, 2021, at the Essentia Health-St. Joseph's Medical Center in Brainerd. 
Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch
Dr. Greg Davis works in the intensive care unit Friday, Sept. 17, 2021, at the Essentia Health-St. Joseph's Medical Center in Brainerd. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

Meanwhile, the number of new cases in Crow Wing County topped 200 for the week, continuing an escalation in weekly reports, and 251 people were actively infectious based on those who’d tested positive. And the deaths of five in the north-central region were reported: three Wadena County residents, two ages 85-89 and one age 90-94; a Crow Wing resident age 70-74; and a Morrison resident age 75-79.



CHELSEY PERKINS, community editor, may be reached at 218-855-5874 or chelsey.perkins@brainerddispatch.com. Follow on Twitter at twitter.com/DispatchChelsey.