Mayo Clinic addresses COVID-19 surge in Midwest

Published 3:26 pm Tuesday, November 10, 2020

By Michael Stoll, Austin Daily Herald


Due to the recent increase in the number of positive COVID-19 cases in the Midwest, Mayo Clinic officials are expressing concern about staffing, supplies and space.

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“Testing volume and positivity rates are all increasing across the board and our hospital census is increasing,” said Dr. Amy Williams, M.D., chairwoman of the Mayo Clinic Midwest Clinical Practice Committee. “The only way we can get this under control is to be safe. That means masking, social distancing and robust hand hygiene. But it also means you have to avoid situations where you can’t mask up or social distance.”

Williams said as the numbers increase, so does the demand for testing supplies, which is currently at over 30,000 tests per week. By contrast, that number was 23,000 a few weeks ago and between 13-14,000 over the summer. Williams said Mayo has the testing capacity to conduct about 8,000 tests per day.

Dr. Amy Williams

Williams also noted Minnesota has seen an increase in the percentage of tests coming back positive. That number currently sits at about 10%.

“Whenever it hits around 10%, we worry about having the capacity to care for those in the community,” she said. “We used to hover around 2 to 5%, and we have seen this increase exponentially over the past few weeks.”

Williams said that as of midnight Sunday, 194 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 in Mayo facilities. As of Tuesday, 92 were hospitalized in Rochester. Both represented significant increases; just a few weeks ago, Mayo Clinic Rochester had anywhere from 20 to 30 patients hospitalized with COVID-19.

Williams noted the demographics of hospitalized patients have also changed. Instead of seeing more elderly patients, Williams said there has been an increase in patients ranging from 40 to 60 years of age.

“The situation is concerning that we have this many people ill with COVID-19 that have to be hospitalized,” she said.

Williams also said there has been an increase in positive tests in the pediatric setting, though hospitalizations for children are rare.

But Williams’ biggest concern is staffing. She said Mayo has seen an increase in staff absences and has over 1,000 staff members out because of COVID-19, whether it is because they have tested positive or are caring for someone who has. She said staff is mainly getting it from community spread, not from patients.

Williams said the hospital has not reached a point where it is overwhelmed and that Mayo facilities do have enough staff and ICU space for those who may need it; however, Mayo has decreased elective patient services by a small percentage in Minnesota. She added the situation is different from when the pandemic began and that Mayo has developed models and plans to determine responses to different situations.

For those looking for holiday advice, Williams said to avoid large gatherings.

“Know that with any large gathering, you may be putting someone at risk,” she said.

She advised that if having a large gathering, try to encourage everyone attending to get tested or quarantine for two weeks before the event.

“Be very deliberate and think about the risk people are exposed to with large gatherings,” Williams said.

With flu season approaching, Williams said Mayo will set up simultaneous COVID-19 and influenza testing based on symptoms.

“Masking and social distancing will help with influenza,” she said. “I do encourage everybody to get a flu vaccine.”

Williams also urged anyone with exacerbated chronic COVID-19 symptoms to seek medical care as medical facilities are safe. For those not experiencing symptoms, Williams urged safe practices.

“Without social distancing, masking, good hand hygiene and staying away from COVID-risky situations, we’re not going to be able to temper this surge,” she said.