Walz: National Guard on alert to support staff at long-term care facilities, new options for rapid testing

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(ABC 6 News) – Gov. Walz announced Friday a new action to address hospital capacity as it is a looming issue across the state of Minnesota as beds continue to fill up with unvaccinated individuals infected with COVID-19, but hospitalization numbers across the country continue to decline.

Walz putting the National Guard on alert to provide staffing support at Minnesota long-term care facilities, expanding access to the COVID-19 Emergency Staffing pool, and directing the Department of Human Services to free up capacity at those state long-term care facilities.

"Exactly what we said a month ago, by early to mid-October, we’re going to be getting a situation where we could be above one thousand hospital beds. That day came yesterday," Gob. Tim Walz said.

These tight capacity issues are prevalent in hospitals across the entire state. In southeast Minnesota, only five percent of hospital beds are currently available.

"We were at 700 beds with COVID a couple of weeks ago. Then 800, then 900, now 1000 and still going up," Jan Malcolm, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Health, said.

"It’s not the best solution, but it is one solution now. It is a plan," Walz said regarding calling in the National Guard.

Walz says with these moves being made today, it will not fix everything but it will remove some of the stress.

"And I can tell you every day is a new challenge, but we’re running out of options. We’re running out of alternatives. We’re running out of new spaces to open. Taking spaces that are used for surgical patients and when we pull back on the surgeries, we’re opening those beds as inpatient beds," Andy Cochrane, Chief Hospital Officer of North Memorial Health, said.

"Our teams are now more stressed than they’ve ever been. And we’re experiencing this here as well as everywhere else in the state. Everybody’s having the same issues," Kevin Crosten, CEO of North Memorial Health, said.

Hospitals are having critical staffing shortages that they didn’t even have a year ago.

Cochrane says all of the previous surges came and went fairly quickly, but this one is completely different.

Although hopeful for a plateau, Commissioner Malcolm says the pandemic is not showing signs of stopping anytime soon.

"Our pattern has been different than past waves here and elsewhere in the country where we’ve had really visible and dramatic and rapid increases in cases that go up quickly and then come down quickly. That’s sort of been the pattern in most places. Not here. We’ve been going up, up, up since the middle of July," Malcolm said.

Malcolm adds although talking about hospital capacity, the same is true with long-term care facilities in Minnesota as well, which are having even worse staffing shortages.

Walz also announced local public health agencies across the state will be stepping up rapid COVID-19 testing in their communities.