We are in the midst of another COVID-19 surge – at Lakewood Health System, in our region, state and country. Just as things were feeling more like “business as usual,” positive COVID cases have steadily increased since late summer due to the highly-contagious delta variant. This has caused us to reinstate some of our COVID protocols that were (optimistically) on hiatus.

Tim Rice, President and CEO of Lakewood Health System
Tim Rice, President and CEO of Lakewood Health System

First, a little information about our current situation: of the 627 COVID tests performed at Lakewood for the week of Sept. 26-Oct. 2, 24% came back positive, which is significantly higher than the five percent health officials find concerning. This percentage (also called the prevalence rate) has been on the rise since the end of August. Case numbers are increasing in every age group, but the highest rates continue to be in younger people.

All areas of our system are being affected by this uptick: emergency department, hospital, clinics and senior housing, to name a few. Minnesota currently has a vaccination rate of 73.7% for those 16+ who have received at least one vaccine. Within our immediate counties, that rate range can drop down to as low as 47.6%, indicating a much larger population of unprotected people. Recent Minnesota Department of Health statistics show western and central Minnesota currently have the lowest vaccination rates and highest case rates. That is our daily reality.

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People are wondering when this surge will peak, but that is unknown at this time. It doesn’t appear to be spiking as intensely as it has in other waves, but it’s not receding either, which can signify the spread is growing. So, taking that into consideration, along with changing guidelines from state and federal health entities, we have had to revisit and modify some of our processes and policies at Lakewood.

Lakewood’s visitor policy applies to all patients, families and employees. It is in place to help ensure everyone’s safety by reducing unnecessary physical contact and interaction while in the building. There are some extenuating circumstances but generally speaking, in our emergency department one visitor per patient per visit is allowed. In our hospital, two visitors per patient per stay are allowed. And for surgery patients, no visitors are allowed, except surgical patients’ drivers and parents/guardians/legal representatives.

These visitor policies do not apply to patients who are COVID-19 positive; there are no visitors allowed for COVID-positive patients unless it is an end-of-life situation. COVID positive OB patients may have one visitor during their stay.

Another key topic lately is regarding monoclonal antibody therapy for patients who are COVID positive or have had a high-risk exposure. This infusion therapy is done as an outpatient procedure and has been shown to lessen the symptoms of COVID and reduce hospitalizations. The process for getting the monoclonal therapy has changed per direction from the state. Patients needing monoclonal therapy need to self-refer by registering through the Minnesota Resource Allocation Platform, which is an online tool that connects people and healthcare providers with COVID-19 medications. Due to this change initiated by the state, our internal process has had to change. Your medical team can provide you more information on this if needed. Thank you for your understanding.

We have had to make many changes and accommodations over the last year and a half as new information and guidelines become available. Thank you for staying the course with us and adapting to these fluctuations.

While many of these changes and decisions can be made at Lakewood independently based on the unique needs of our communities, we are required to abide by state and federal regulations, which can sometimes be perceived as us not doing all we could be doing, or not putting our patients and community first. I assure you our team of experts at Lakewood are here for you and committed to providing the quality, personalized healthcare you and your families have trusted us with since 1936.

As we’ve said since the beginning, we will get through this together.

Tim Rice is the President and CEO of Lakewood Health System in Staples.