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'Perfect storm of events': Health officials say Itasca County at highest-ever rate of COVID-19

"We have not had an available critical care bed for many days," said Dr. Simon Lick, with Grand Itasca Hospital.

GRAND RAPIDS, Minn. — Dr. Simon Lick with Grand Itasca Hospital says as of Tuesday morning, 44 percent of their hospitalizations are COVID-19 related, with many critical care patients being taken care of in the ER for extended periods of time.

"We have not had an available critical care bed for many days," said Lick.

According to Itasca County Public Health officials, the county has topped its highest 14-day COVID-19 case rate from 2020.

"We've been on a steady incline already since September, and now we're at this point where we are at 138.8," said Kelly Chandler, public health division manager with Itasca County. "We topped out around 129.9 around this time last year until early December."

Health officials say from March until November of this year, the majority of those accounting for hospitalizations, ICU admissions and deaths are unvaccinated.

"Hospitalized alone, 48 of our vaccinated have been in the hospital compared to 198 folks and then ICU admission, nine were vaccinated, 47 were unvaccinated," said Chandler. "We would like to be over 80%, but right now, we're sitting at 55% of folks who have began their vaccinations."

Chandler calls it a "crisis" situation in area hospitals. "What does happen when someone is hospitalized with COVID, they tend to need to be hospitalized longer," said Chandler. "You add that in to folks coming in who have had an accident, or have a surgery, or a stroke; they need to be hospitalized as well and it bottles up the system."

Doctors say along with staffing shortages and the lack of available beds, there's a continued disconnect with the community amid decreased mitigation efforts.

"It's a problem throughout the state and this is not going to be a short-term solution," said Dr. Lick.

Now, healthcare workers are asking for the community's support to help alleviate the pressure on the health care system.

"Don't drink and drive; don't drink and hunt," said Chandler. "That will also prevent accidents to keep our hospitals clear to treat those who really need it."

Allina Health, Health Partners and CentraCare have reported similar issues. 

In an effort to relieve Minnesota hospitals treating the surge of COVID-19 patients, Governor Tim Walz announced two alternative care sites in Brainerd and Shakopee.