MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota hospitals are having staffing challenges as the state topped 5,000 daily cases of coronavirus for the first time on Friday.
The Minnesota Department of Health reported 5,454 new coronavirus cases and 36 deaths. Friday is the fourth day in a row the state has broken its single-day record, shattering the previous day's total by more than 1,000 cases.
The 36 deaths are the state's most in a single day since the pandemic began.
Minnesota health officials and hospitals statewide are bracing for more patients, since they are a lagging indicator that usually follows case growth. Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said hospital space has been tight through the summer and fall due to ailments not related to the virus, making the recent rise in COVID-19 hospitalizations worrisome in terms of capacity.
With 986 patients hospitalized statewide as of Friday afternoon, including 212 in intensive care, hospitals also have staffing challenges due to increasing patient volume and more healthcare workers becoming infected or exposed and having to quarantine.
Malcolm said that options include volunteers with the Medical Reserve Corps and hospitals moving staff around internally as needed. It's getting harder to recruit travelling nurses as more hotspots emerge around the country.
"The difficulty that we face now, unfortunately, is with COVID on the rise all over the country, some of that surging of staff that we've seen in hotspots earlier in the pandemic is now being stretched very thinly, broadly all over the country," she said.
Malcolm said the alarming case growth in the past week continues to be fueled by smaller interactions and decisions, and raises questions about whether any new restrictions would be effective. State officials are considering some policy options to mitigate transmission but repeated current guidelines of social distancing, avoiding gatherings and wearing a mask, she said.
"If Minnesotans were following the guidance that currently exists, we wouldn't need further dial back," she said. "I think with the numbers being as dramatic as they've been in recent days ... people may have become numb to the numbers but perhaps these rapid increases will catch attention and folks will really think hard about the role we all play in this."
According to data compiled by Johns Hopkins researchers, the 7-day rolling average of daily new cases in Minnesota has risen over the past two weeks from 1,578 on Oct. 22 to 3,222 on Nov. 5.
The updated numbers bring Minnesota's totals to 170,307 cases and 2,591 deaths since the start of the pandemic.