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Live updates: Walz, hospital execs warn that hospitals are running out of staff to treat COVID-19

Gov. Tim Walz held a news conference with health care leaders to urge Minnesotans to take the rising cases and deaths seriously.

ST PAUL, Minn. — Thursday, Nov. 19 

  • 72 deaths, 7,877 new cases reported Thursday
  • Minnesota hospitals warn they are running out of healthy staff
  • Walz closes gyms, indoor dining, pauses sports as COVID cases spike
  • 83 of 87 counties now under distance learning recommendations
  • Eleven new COVID-19 testing sites to open across Minnesota; mail order testing program now available statewide

2 p.m.

Minnesota hospital executives are warning residents that they are running out of staff to care for COVID-19 patients.

Gov. Tim Walz held a news conference with hospital leaders and Minnesota health officials Thursday ahead of new restrictions going into effect Friday night.

"It pains me beyond belief to know with almost certainty" that every day will be a new record for COVID-19 deaths, Walz said. "That will be more of a norm than an anomaly."

Minnesota health officials reported 72 deaths Thursday, the new daily record, along with nearly 8,000 new cases.

Walz said he knows the decision to "pause" for a few weeks is hard.

RELATED: Walz announces four-week dial back plan pausing in-person dining, gyms, social gatherings

"Your lives have been disrupted for the better part of eight months and you have another disruption," he said. "I see and hear you but I am convinced... that in the long run the lives we save and the disruption that happens now lead us to a better opportunity both from a health perspective and from an economic perspective."

Walz said the hope now is to hit the peak and come back down.

"These are the people that I'm listening to," Walz said of the hospital leaders who were scheduled to speak with him on Thursday. "Every health care system in Minnesota agrees with the moves that we are making."

Walz said they're trying to craft that "very narrow line" between keeping people safe and allowing Minnesotans to do what they need to do to be financially stable, and also to be emotionally and mentally healthy.

Penny Wheeler, CEO of Allina Health, said Allina is currently taking care of one in four hospitalized COVID-19 patients in the state. She thanked Walz and Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) Commissioner Jan Malcolm for the steps they are taking "to try to help us."

"There is nothing worse as a care provider than to think that you can't adequately care for someone in front of you who needs your services, and we're getting to that point," Wheeler said.

She said that because community spread is happening so rapidly, Allina has 800 people out of work due to COVID-19. The Mayo Clinic also reported 900 staff members out this week.

"We need you to take care for us," she said. "If I could get down on my knees and you could still see me above the podium I would do so. We need your help terribly."

Wheeler reminded Minnesotans that there are promising vaccines on the horizon and health experts know more about COVID-19 than ever before.

"It's not forever," she said. "We just need a bridge so that we don't become overwhelmed and unable to take care of the community."

Wheeler said they are getting "perilously close" to that point.

Cindy Smith, co-CEO at Carris Health based in Willmar, said rural Minnesota hospitals are on the verge.

"We're caring for a rapidly increasing number of COVID patients in our communities," she said. "With forecasted projections and without action we'll be in crisis all too soon."

Smith said the Willmar facility is serving as a southern hub, keeping COVID patients away from the CentraCare St. Cloud Hospital so that patients with other medical crises can be taken care of in St. Cloud.

"We've found ourselves in dire straits," she said.

Smith said that they're having to delay surgeries or provide alternative sites, difficult decisions for doctors to make. They are also opening a COVID-only hospital in Sauk Centre.

She said "stuff, space and staff" are the primary concerns when it comes to caring for COVID-19 patients.

The testing supplies, ventilators and PPE they needed in the beginning are pretty well supplied, she said, and space is not an issue. Staff is the problem.

In rural Minnesota, Smith said her system had 1,200 people out recently, either with COVID, on quarantine, or taking care of ill family members.

"We don't have anybody to replace those people," she said. "We could have piles of PPE and hundreds of beds and none of that matters if we don't have the people to care for our patients."

Beyond that, Smith said, her staff members are exhausted. And there is no one to call for backup.

Smith said it's "heartbreaking" for hospital staff to finish a shift, go to the store and see people without masks on.

"Don't call health care workers heroes if you can't put a piece of cloth or paper over your mouth to protect them."

Smith asked Minnesotans to wear a mask, social distance and stay home.

"We're begging you," Smith finished. "Help us help you."

Dr. Carolyn McClain also spoke at the news conference to offer a perspective on being an emergency physician at this time.

"This has been one of the hardest times in my life," she said. "I've worked in Haiti after the earthquake, and you could go home. And this is my home and I'm watching people die. And that is hard, and it's been going on for a long time."

She said with staffing shortages they have to do more shifts, and because people are isolated and hospitalized alone, they take their work home with them more than before.

"You feel like you have to love them a little bit more because they don't have their family with them," she said.

McClain described having to tell a patient in his 90s that he had COVID-19.

He said to her, "Dr. McClain, I don't think I've been this scared since I fought in Korea."

Walz said the health care workers are not there to support him - he's there to support them. He urged Minnesotans to direct any anger at him - and then to follow health precautions not for him, but for them.

"Don't do them because I asked you, don't do them because I made an executive order," he said. "They are telling you an authentic, lived experience that is playing out across this state and across this nation. And we do have the power to do something about it. We are not helpless here."

Allina CEO Penny Wheeler responded to a question about people who insist on having friends over for Thanksgiving, despite the governor's order.

She said she knows it's hard to not be able to celebrate Thanksgiving with loved ones.

"We all know that," she said. "We don't get to either."

But Wheeler said of the hospital workers she represents, "They're gonna be watching people die that day. And they don't want to watch you die at Christmas. So please don't. Just this year, please don't."

When asked how soon they will run out of staff, Cindy Smith with Carris Health told reporters, "I don't know." She said she still has people tell her, "I don't believe you. You're a liar. It's a hoax."

Commissioner Malcolm said that with the volume of new cases Minnesota is seeing, MDH is looking at adjusting its contact tracing strategy.

"It's really hard to even find hotspots in the middle of a raging forest fire," she said.

Gov. Walz said he, Malcolm and other state leaders share Minnesotans' stress.

"It's OK to not be OK," Walz said.

He acknowledged that Malcolm has lost her spouse and her mother since the COVID-19 pandemic began. He shared a story about MDH staff saying the names of each person who has died from COVID-19 every day, to make sure the numbers remain human.

"All of us know what it's like to lose a loved one," he said. "These emotions are raw for the families of 3,000 Minnesotans."

Walz said he will go to his grave not understanding the division around COVID-19, but said it is not too late to change the narrative.

"It is not too late to turn this around," he said.

11 a.m.

Minnesota continues to push the COVID-19 curve upward, with state health officials reporting a new single-day high in deaths Thursday. 

Numbers released by the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) reflect 72 more deaths from the virus, up five from the previous high of 67 reported just one day earlier. That brings Minnesota's total fatalities to 3,082 since the start of the pandemic.

MDH reports 7,877 new cases of coronavirus, second only to the 8,703 cases reported last Saturday. Those new cases are based on the results of 56,820 tests processed in private and state labs. Of those tests, 1,733 are antigen tests where a positive result indicates a probable case. The remainder, 55,087, are PCR tests, which indicate a confirmed case.

Minnesota has now recorded 249,906 total cases. 

Credit: KARE

Earlier, Gov. Tim Walz reported death and case numbers to the Minnesota Executive Council that were a bit higher than those released by MDH Thursday. Walz told the council that health officials would report 76 deaths, and at least 8,000 cases of COVID-19.

Total hospitalizations are now at 14,171 since the pandemic arrived in Minnesota, with 3,346 of those patients requiring care in the ICU. Currently 1,751 hospital beds across the state are being used by COVID patients, with 367 of those beds located in the ICU. Both of those numbers are single-day records.

Health officials say 198,365 people who at one time tested positive for the virus have recovered to the point they no longer require isolation. 

Young adults ages 20 to 24 make up the largest portion of Minnesota's COVID-19 cases with 28,387 and two deaths, followed by 25 to 29-year-olds with 23,552 cases and three deaths. Those 85 to 89 account for the largest grouping of deaths with 563 in 3,116 cases. 

Hennepin County has the most COVID activity in the state with 54,662 cases and 1,066 deaths, followed by nearby Ramsey County with 23,071 cases and 450 fatalities. Anoka County reports 17,859 cases and 203 coronavirus deaths.

Cook County has the least COVID activity with 50 cases and zero fatalities, followed by Lake of the Woods County with 78 cases and one death. 

Full distance learning is now recommended across nearly the entire state of Minnesota, based on updated data released Thursday by the Minnesota Department of Health. The latest Safe Learning Plan guidance shows full distance learning recommended in 83 of Minnesota's 87 counties.

The latest guidance is based on county-level case data per 10,000 people for the two-week period from Oct. 25 through Nov. 7. Many counties reported more than 100 cases per 10,000 people over that time period.

Only Cook, Koochiching, Lake of the Woods and Watonwan counties have slightly lower case rates and fall into a lower category, where state guidance recommends hybrid learning for elementary schools and distance learning in secondary schools.

State officials have emphasized that this case data alone does not automatically determine the learning plan for a particular county or school district, but is meant to be used as guidance in each district's decision-making process.

According to the state's Safe Learning Plan, the county case data leads to five recommended learning models:

  • 0-9 cases per 10,000: In-person learning for all students
  • 10-19 cases per 10,000: In-person learning for elementary students, hybrid learning for secondary students
  • 20-29 cases per 10,000: Hybrid learning for all students
  • 30-49 cases per 10,000: Hybrid learning for elementary students, distance learning for secondary students
  • 50 or more cases per 10,000: Distance learning for all students

10 a.m.

In a meeting of the Minnesota Executive Council Governor Tim Walz warned that state health officials will confirm 76 new COVID-19 deaths Thursday, a new single-day high. 

"We will be reporting record numbers of 8,000 infections, an absolutely staggering and heartbreaking 76 deaths, dozens of hospitalizations and ICU capacity is reaching what we knew," Walz told the council in audio shared by MPR News.

During the same meeting Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) Commissioner Jan Malcolm said hospitalizations related to the coronavirus are up 80% over the last two weeks, beyond the state's projections. 

When asked about the governor's numbers an MDH spokesperson would not confirm them, saying the department's daily statistics would be shared at 11 a.m., as usual. 

Wednesday, Nov. 18 

6 p.m. 

Governor Tim Walz announced a four-week dial back plan to help control the spread of COVID-19, as case numbers surge across the state and country, and as many hospitals report nearing capacity. 

Walz is turning back the dial on in-person dining, sports, gyms and other social activities. The restrictions will take effect Friday, Nov. 20 at 11:59 p.m. and last until Friday, Dec. 18.

“Today marks a somber milestone in the pandemic as we surpass 3,000 Minnesotans lost to COVID-19,” Gov. Walz said in the release. “This immense loss strikes at the heart of our state. We are at a breaking point. As hospitals near the crisis of turning away new patients, continuing as things are is simply not sustainable. The actions announced today will help prevent more families from losing a loved one and ensure our hospitals can treat those who fall ill. While these actions mean incredible hardship for many, they are the fastest way to recover our economy, keep our kids in school, and get back to the activities we love.”

Here is the list of things being halted for four weeks time. 

  • All in-person dining — both indoor and outdoor
  • All social gatherings with individuals outside your household
  • Organized sports — youth and adult
  • Gyms/fitness centers — including yoga, martial arts, dance studios
  • Recreation centers/public pools
  • Indoor entertainment venues
  • Weddings receptions/private parties

According to the governor's announcement, retail businesses, salons and places of worship will remain open with proper precautions in place. Childcare will also remain open and schools will continue to operate under the Safe Learning Plan

2 p.m.

The Wisconsin's Department of Health Services (WDHS) reported 7,989 new cases Wednesday, the highest number of confirmed cases in a single day since the pandemic began. Health officials also reported 52 new deaths and 283 additional hospitalizations.

In a press briefing on Wednesday afternoon, Gov. Tony Evers extended the statewide mask mandate to January 2021. The mandate was set to expire Saturday.

11 a.m.

State health officials released numbers Wednesday reflecting the single deadliest day since the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in Minnesota. 

The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) says 67 people died of coronavirus in the past 24-hour reporting period, bringing the state total to 3,010. Of those deaths 2,066, or 69% of them, are tied to long-term care or assisted living settings. Records show the previous single-day high in deaths was 56, recorded on Nov. 11. 

The regrettable record high in deaths comes on the day Gov. Tim Walz is set to announce a new round of restrictions to deal with Minnesota's skyrocketing COVID case rate. A source says those restrictions will include closing gyms and fitness centers, rolling back on bars and restaurants to allow takeout-only, and pausing high school and youth sports. Those restrictions will reportedly last for at least four weeks. 

New cases are down more than 800 from Tuesday, with MDH reporting an additional 5,102 Minnesotans testing positive for the virus. Those new cases were confirmed by 37,026 tests (33,237 PCR, 3,789 Antigen) processed in private and state labs. 

A positive PCR test is considered a confirmed case by health officials, while a positive Antigen test is considered a probable case. 

The total cumulative number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Minnesota is now 242,043.

Credit: KARE

Total hospitalizations since the onset of the pandemic now sit at 13,892, with 3,307 requiring care in the ICU. As of Tuesday Minnesota hospitals were dealing with 1,706 COVID in-patient coronavirus cases, with 355 of those patients in intensive care.

Credit: KARE

Those ages 20 to 24 continue to make up the state's largest grouping of COVID cases, with 27,725 and two fatalities, followed by people 25 to 29 with 22,853 cases and three deaths. The demographic from 85 to 89 accounts for the largest number of deaths, with 552 in just 3,046 confirmed cases. 

Hennepin County has the most COVID activity in the state with 53,486 cases and 1,061 fatalities, followed by Ramsey County with 22,497 cases and 441 deaths. Anoka County reports 17,374 cases and 196 deaths.

Cook County in northeast Minnesota reports the least COVID activity with 48 cases and zero fatalities since the beginning of the pandemic. Lake of the Woods County is next with 78 cases and a single death.

KARE 11’s coverage of the coronavirus is rooted in Facts, not Fear. Visit kare11.com/coronavirus for comprehensive coverage, find out what you need to know about the Midwest specifically, learn more about the symptoms, and see what businesses are open as the state slowly lifts restrictions. Have a question? Text it to us at 763-797-7215. And get the latest coronavirus updates sent right to your inbox every morning. Subscribe to the KARE 11 Sunrise newsletter here. Help local families in need: www.kare11.com/give11

The state of Minnesota has set up a data portal online at mn.gov/covid19.