More than 400 COVID-19 patients have been treated in the intensive care unit at Saint Marys Hospital. It's dedicated COVID-19 unit has been full since August.

On Christmas Eve, Forum News Service Reporter Paul John Scott and Post Bulletin photographer Joe Ahlquist were allowed access to the unit. Their story, published Dec. 29, is one of sadness and death. But it is also one of courage and the quiet resolve of a team of health professionals.

The COVID-19 ICU is a voluntary nursing assignment. Nurses are only there if they asked to be part of the mission, and 45 raised their hands.

"Before COVID we would see a lot of hard situations, and since COVID it's been a lot lot harder," says Madi Van Horen, a nurse on the COVID ICU overflow unit.

"We've had a lot of deaths. I worked last weekend and was gone for two days and I came back and like six people died."

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Thumbs up to the team of caring professionals in the ICU, and thumbs up to everyone taking part in the world's epic battle against COVID-19.

How does your garden grow?

Thumbs up to the Olmsted County Extension Master Gardener Volunteers. The nearly 100 volunteers refused to be sidelined by the pandemic. Instead, they adapted their offerings by recording video lessons to educate young people about growing vegetables and offered distance learning lessons through partnerships with other Olmsted County Extension agencies.

The volunteers also teamed with community partners to teach neighbors of the MLK Park Community Food and Learning Garden how to grow their own food. This resulted in a harvest of more than 500 pounds of food for neighbors and the Channel One Regional Food Bank.

Traffic deaths rise with speed

Despite driving less frequently during the pandemic, the number of traffic deaths on Minnesota highways rose in 2019.

A reported 380 fatalities were recorded by mid-December. Thirteen of those were in Olmsted County. At mid-December of last year, there had been 348 deaths on Minnesota roads.

Authorities blame excessive speed for the increase.

“I’m talking about 25, 30 or 40 or 50 or 60 miles an hour over the speed limit,” Minnesota Office of Traffic Safety Director Mike Hanson told reporter Matthew Guerry. “It used to be a once or twice a year event where you would stop somebody for driving over 100 miles an hour, and it was a deal,” Hanson continued. “We’re having multiple violations within a single shift with officers right now.”

Despite the increase in road fatalities, the number of impaired drivers hitting the road seems to have decreased. By mid-December, 21,894 driving-while-intoxicated arrests had been made. At the same time in 2019, authorities had made 26,668 such arrests. Limitations put on bars and restaurants to slow the spread of COVID19 might explain the decrease. Thumbs down on a troubling trend.