ROCHESTER, Minn. — With the COVID-19 pandemic intensifying all around it, Mayo Clinic has found itself facing the pandemic with over 1,000 staff taken off line due to the illness, according to a Tuesday, Nov. 10, briefing by Dr. Amy Williams, dean of Clinic Practice.

Williams said the reasons for staff absenteeism included caring for a family member with the illness, being in quarantine for exposure to the illness, and suffering from the illness itself.

With cases soaring across the state and hospital beds filling up, the clinic's early concern for stockpiling PPE, protecting staff from patient-to-staff transmission and leveraging the most beds into inventory has suddenly become secondary to the human resource challenge of protecting staff from their family, friends and neighbors unknowingly carrying the virus.

All of whom could need a bed that is staffed.

"The most critical worry we have now is staffing," Williams said. "We have an increase in staff absences and this may end up limiting our ability to care for patients."

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Williams said 93% of staff exposures to the virus have come from exposure in the Rochester community.

"We are not seeing the transmission from patient to staff in the care setting. We're seeing more exposure out in the community and that's not because the staff are taking risks, it's just because the spread has increased so much."

It was a day for snapping to attention in Rochester. Olmsted County Public Health Services suspended the license for Legends Bar & Grill, a downtown bar that shared pictures on Facebook of a Halloween party with poor social distancing, and Mayo opened its books to some of the hard numbers it normally keeps under wraps.

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Williams reported that Mayo Rochester the Mayo Clinic Health System is now treating 1,000 patients on an outpatient basis, and has cared for 12,000 COVID-19 patients since March.

As of midnight Sunday, Nov. 8, the clinic had 194 COVID-19 patients being treated on an inpatient basis. with Rochester Mayo Clinic Hospital jumping from the 20s in recent weeks to 86 Monday night to 92 Tuesday morning.

Mayo Rochester has 18 specialized ICUs, each with multiple beds. Though they are not at capacity Williams said "we are very concerned about the rate at which patients are needing hospitalization."

Testing has also spiked.

Rochester once supplied the state with tests while requiring comparatively few for itself — 2,000 a day. But that's all changed, with Rochester requiring over 4,000 tests a day, or 30,000 per week.

Mayo has accepted transfer patients with COVID-19 from Iowa, Wisconsin and greater Minnesota, "based on the acuity and complexity of care," according to Williams. These transfers have increased significantly over the past two weeks, however, though Mayo declined to provide an exact number.

"The most important thing our communities can do to decrease the spread is to be safe," said Williams, "and that means masking, social distancing and robust hand hygiene. The other important thing is to avoid risky situations where you can't social distance and you can't mask."

Statewide, Minnesota hospitals now have 1,224 patients with COVID-19, 975 in medical surgical beds, and 249 in an ICU setting.

As a result, according to the Minnesota Department of Health, there are now just 11 critical care beds in the northeast part of the state, 11 in central Minnesota, where one third of all hospitalized patients have COVID-19. MDH said that there are 22 critical care beds in the Twin Cities, and 19 in southeast Minnesota.

It's not clear how that final figure reflects availability, or lack thereof, at Mayo Clinic.

Source: Minnesota Department of Health
Source: Minnesota Department of Health

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  • Minnesota Department of Health COVID-19 hotline: 651-201-3920.
  • COVID-19 discrimination hotline: 833-454-0148
  • Minnesota Department of Health COVID-19 website: Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) website.