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First District Health Unit monitors rising COVID-19 numbers

Health system adjusts to rising COVID numbers

The spread of COVID-19 in the Minot region has local public health and medical workers concerned but not yet alarmed.

“We are seeing increased cases right now,” Lisa Clute, executive director at First District Health Unit, told the Minot City Council Monday. “We certainly have the ability in this community to turn these numbers. We’re seeing cases throughout the community, but not huge clusters. Sometimes there are clusters, and we’ve been able to address those. We just need everybody to help us out. Slow the spread.”

Clute said she has visited with the governor’s office regarding the struggles in getting people to cooperate with quarantine. The governor has been hearing that concern across the state, she said.

“If we test and they don’t quarantine or isolate, then we have the information but we’re not necessarily mitigating that, containing that spread,” she said.

Trinity Health had 15 hospitalized COVID-19 patients Wednesday, down one from what had been a peak at the end of August.

Randy Schwan, Trinity vice president, said the hospital has been able to handle the volume of COVID-19 patients, although the care is more complex and draws more heavily on still hard-to-get personal protective equipment. The eight-day average stay of a COVID-19 patient also is about twice a non-COVID patient average, he said.

Trinity has at times transferred non-COVID patients to other facilities in or out of the state due to reasons unrelated to COVID-19, Schwan said. This is not an unusual practice, particularly in mental health, where demand for beds often can exceed the supply, he said. Hospitals also sometimes transfer patients among each other to provide for patients who may need specialty care or because staffing is not adequate at that time to provide the care.

Staffing availability can be tight for different reasons, but a shortage of medical workers has been long-standing.

“We need more nurses. We are a growing organization,” Schwan said. “We have not slowed down in our recruiting efforts.”

Trinity has a 19-bed ICU, but staffing limits the number of patients who can be in that ICU. However, with only about 10% of the ICU filled with COVID-19 patients, ICU space for other patients remains available, Schwan said.

Clute said First District has taken on all COVID-19 testing of asymptomatic people to reduce the demand on the hospital system.

Clute said COVID-19 testing has increased, but that doesn’t explain away higher positivity rates in the district.

“The reality is these cases are here and they’re spreading,” she said. “We are seeing our positivity rate go up substantially within the community.”

Clute said most new cases are being seen in the 20-29-year-old age category. She cited the notable increase in cases when Minot State University and other colleges and universities in the state resumed classes.

“We are over at MSU twice a week,” she said. “This week, we are running 800 tests.”

As of Wednesday, MSU was reporting 61 active cases and 123 recovered cases. Of the active cases, 19 are on-campus students, 41 are off-campus students and one is faculty/staff. The number of student cases has totaled 170, while there have been 14 cases among faculty/staff. Of the 253 people being quarantined, 14 are faculty/staff, 46 are on-campus students and 193 are off-campus students.

MSU lists its COVID-19 risk at Level 2, or low risk. At Level 2, most operations continue at capacity, with distanced seating and no self-service in dining services. Classes are a blend of in-person and remote learning. Masks are required on campus. Athletic events remain open to the public.

First District also is preparing for eventual distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine.

“This is what we do at First District. We mass vaccinate,” Clute said. “So this isn’t a new plan that needs to be written. The only thing that needs to be rewritten possibly is how the vaccine is going to come in, in regards to the cold storage. Some of the trials are needing cold storage, which means vaccine needs to kept at 70 degrees below zero.”

First District has been visiting with the Minot city officials about facilities that could be made available for mass vaccination events. Clute said planning has been limited until more information becomes available.

“We are not ignoring the vaccine issue. We’re watching it carefully. But I know we can get the job done when the time comes,” she said.

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