The Centers for Disease Control reported this week that Minnesota is among the highest seven-day rate of new COVID-19 infections in the country.

The state's rate of 472 cases per 100,000 is triple the U.S. average. And in one of the most infectious states, the CDC reports that Wadena County has one of the highest case rates for COVID, 1,030 cases per 100,000. More than twice that of the state average. The CDC shows a 15.2% positivity rate in the county for the last seven days out of 965 tests performed.

Coincidentally, Wadena County also has the third lowest vaccination rate in the state, with 43.5% of the total population receiving at least one dose of the vaccine, according to MDH. They surpassed Todd County this week which sits at 42.5% vaccinated.

As of Tuesday, Nov. 16, Wadena County reported two more COVID-related deaths from the previous week bringing the total to 35. They also report a total of 2,850 positive cases since the illness struck in spring 2020.

Despite illness being around every corner, Tri-County Health Care President and CEO Joel Beiswenger noted at a Wadena County Commission meeting Tuesday morning that it is still abundantly clear that some just don’t believe there is a problem.

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“There is still a sense that COVID isn't real,” he said speaking to the group remotely by video. Meanwhile, hospital staff are dealing with full beds, working to find places for ill people to go and, yes, watching people die.

“I can’t overemphasize, we are in our biggest surge to date,” Beiswenger said of the increase in COVID patients.

While the illness spreads out throughout the country, hospitals and staff are feeling the urgency in the situation. Beiswenger delivered a plea to the county board and those present to take the situation seriously. He described a situation last week where TCHC was using every oxygen device in the facility. Had they had one more person admitted in need of that life saving device, they would have had to pull their ethics group together and make the difficult decision of who would get the care they need.

“Nobody wants to make that decision,” Beiswenger said.The hospital has since been able to add three more oxygen devices to help fulfill a need for patients.

Even before Beiswenger spoke, COVID’s touch could be felt within the board meeting. County commissioner Jon Kangas was absent for the second meeting in a row. He provided a short letter, read by Wadena County Coordinator Ryan Odden. In the letter Kangas explained why he was gone, including 14 days he spent hospitalized with COVID. Kangas was now at home recovering, still on oxygen.

He’s not alone as Beiswenger expressed rural hospitals are full.

“My people are tired,” Beiswenger said of the hospital and clinic staff. “They are stressed. We just don’t see an end in sight over the next few weeks.”

Beiswenger backed up his talk with graphs the hospital staff utilizes to watch trends in illness. It showed an upward trend in COVID cases and COVID hospitalizations.

While the trend did not appear to be dropping, staffing numbers have dropped, which he said was comparable to all industries experiencing a worker shortage and with the vaccine mandates coming soon, Beiswenger had no doubt that more staff would be lost.

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“Almost certainly we will lose staff,” Beiswenger said. “We hope to minimize that. In a situation that is already full — it is probably going to get worse.”

So what’s to be done?

“Vaccine is the best tool we have available to us,” Beiswenger said.

Beiswenger asked again for people to get vaccinated and added that the mortality rate for the unvaccinated is far higher than those who are vaccinated. He said he understood that people may make the personal choice to not be vaccinated but emphasized that other mitigation tactics should be put to use in those situations, like masking and social distancing or staying home if you are sick.

COVID in the state

As of Tuesday, Nov. 16, the Minnesota Department of Health reported 857,791 confirmed cases, 9,047 deaths and 816,736 now released from isolation.

3,330,128 people have completed the vaccine series. For those 18 and older, that’s about 79.8% of the state’s population.

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