Minnesota bans elective surgeries in response to COVID-19

Published 5:59 am Friday, March 20, 2020

MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota health care providers must postpone elective surgeries and other medical procedures so they can focus their resources on responding to the anticipated surge of COVID-19 cases, Gov. Tim Walz ordered Thursday.

The order, which also applies to non-emergency dental procedures, followed guidance issued by the federal government this week to delay elective procedures to conserve resources and reduce contact between patients and providers. The order applies starting Monday at 5 p.m.

“The greatest risk we face during the COVID-19 pandemic is overwhelming our health care systems and limiting their ability to respond to emerging cases,” Walz said in a statement. “This executive order keeps more health care resources open and prioritizes life-saving intervention for COVID-19 patients and other emergency care.”

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The order defines nonessential procedures as those that can be delayed without undue risk to the patient’s health. The governor’s office said providers should not postpone treatments that prevent loss of life, permanent dysfunction of an organ or limb, or that risk the spread of cancer.

The Minnesota Hospital Association endorsed the governor’s order.

“We understand that this is a difficult decision for hospitals and health care systems. … But it is absolutely the right thing to do in order to protect our patients, preserve supplies, equipment, and the right thing to do for our front-line caregivers,” Dr. Rahul Koranne, the association’s president and CEO, said in a conference call with reporters.

Some providers had already begun cancellations, Koranne said, and others will be contacting patients whose procedures can safely be postponed.

For most people, the coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild cases of COVID-19 recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe cases may take three to six weeks to get better.

The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Minnesota rose to 89 on Thursday, up 12 from the day before, according to the Minnesota Department of Health. The new cases included one in Clay County in northwestern Minnesota, the state’s first confirmed case so far north. The department originally said the patient was from Wadena County in north-central Minnesota, but issued a correction Thursday night saying further investigation showed that the person was from Clay County.

The real total is likely much higher and the disease is probably spreading in other parts of the state beyond the handful of counties where community transmission has been documented, Kris Ehresmann, the department’s infectious disease director, said in her daily briefing for reporters.

“The 89 cases really represent the tip of the iceberg.,” Ehresmann said.

The strain of the coming surge on the health care system will depend on how diligently Minnesota residents practice social distancing and follow official guidance for preventing the spread of the coronavirus, including staying home if they’re sick, officials said. Seven Minnesota patients have been hospitalized for COVID-19 since the outbreak began; four remain hospitalized.

“If we get a hundred patients across the state, we are going to be OK,” Koranne said. “If we get a hundred thousand patients that need hospital level of care, the entire system is going to be extremely stressed.”

In keeping with spikes seen around the country and the world, new applications for unemployment insurance in Minnesota for the week topped 72,000 as of Wednesday night, according to figures released by the Department of Employment and Economic Development on Thursday.