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Hospitals seek help from public, politicians in face of equipment shortage

"We plead all Minnesotans to take action now."

MINNEAPOLIS — When Minnesota Governor Tim Walz called for a statewide end to elective surgeries on Thursday, the Minnesota Hospital Association said it was part of a larger goal.

"We plead all Minnesotans to take action now. Hospital care needs to be preserved for those who are acutely ill," said Dr. Rahul Koranne, president and CEO of the Minnesota Hospital Association. "Patients should not visit the hospital emergency department unless they are experiencing an emergency situation."

Dr. Koranne says part of the effort is to protect healthcare workers from unnecessary exposure, but it's also about conserving protective equipment like masks, face shields and gowns in the face of a national shortage.

"We need to be sure we can protect our frontline caregivers with supplies and prepare for the inevitable surge of COVID-19 patients," Dr. Koranne said.

But the size and timing of the virus surge is unknown in Minnesota. Due to testing shortages, MDH believes there are far more than the 89 cases confirmed so far, but right now just four known cases are hospitalized. That's a number everyone is watching closely.

"If we get 100 patients across the state, we are going to be okay," Dr. Koranne said. "If we get 100,000 patients that need hospital level of care, the entire system is going to be stressed."

In Minnesota, progress is being made, the Mayo Clinic announced on Thursday that it found ways to expand capacity and will begin processing 4,000 coronavirus tests daily. The Minnesota State Patrol has also joined Minnesota National Guard efforts to deliver a state supply of masks to providers across the state. 

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But the Hospital Association says larger supplies of those items, and larger items like ventilators, are still uncertain. Despite efforts to secure them from a federal stockpile, President Trump created more uncertainty around the status and delivery of those items on Thursday.

"Governors are supposed to be doing a lot of this work," Trump said. "The federal government is not supposed to be out there buying vast amounts of items and then shipping. We're not a shipping clerk."

That response angered Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar, who says she's working with Gov. Walz and others to get the issues resolved.

"That bothered me so much, I just thought, seriously? This is a federal problem," Klobuchar said. "Mayors and governors can't find ventilators that are in another country or are in our own country somewhere. And certainly things like vaccine development and test development, those need federal approvals and you want to have coordination. That's a federal responsibility. No city or state, including the biggest ones, are going to be able to take this on themselves."

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The state of Minnesota has set up a hotline for general questions about coronavirus at 651-201-3920 or 1-800-657-3903, available 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

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