An important message from Public Health Administrator Dr. Nick Kelley as sobering statistics leave health care workers overwhelmed and hospital beds limited or unavailable.
City Council Meeting December 20, 2021
This past week, we reached two sobering milestones – 800,000 deaths due to COVID-19 in the U.S., and 10,000 Minnesotans who have died of COVID-19. We are approaching 200 deaths of our neighbors in Bloomington. We continue to see high levels of COVID-19 in the community. This is straining our health care system. While I am worried about the continued high rates of COVID-19 in the community, I am far more concerned about our health care system – more than at any other time during the pandemic.
The unthinkable, no hospital beds, is starting to become a common occurrence. This is occurring due to the rising number of COVID-19 cases and limited staffing, reducing the number of available beds. If you need emergency care now, your wait time will be longer and you may wait a very long time for a hospital bed, if one is available at all. Our Fire Chief shared that this situation leaves ambulances with little recourse but to bounce back and forth between hospitals. These conditions have been getting slowly and steadily worse.
At the same time as we are experiencing limited health care capacity, we are also preparing for the impact of the new COVID-19 variant known as omicron. While there is a lot of uncertainty about omicron, everything we have learned so far is concerning. This may be the biggest challenge we face yet with COVID-19. I also recognize this is the message nobody wants to hear and the timing of this news is challenging.
There are three things we focus on when a new variant emerges to understand the impact:
The first is, “Is it more transmissible?” In this case omicron is more transmissible than delta, the variant that makes up the majority of cases in Minnesota. This means we expect cases to go up rapidly when omicron “outcompetes” delta in the coming weeks.
The second area is ”Will it cause more severe illness?”. At this point, less than a month since this variant emerged, we are still learning about the clinical picture. Some data suggest that it may be less severe, however we are still learning what happens when it spreads in a population with older adults and people with comorbidities. Early data on the initial 785 cases identified in Denmark found that, 1.2% were hospitalized and 1 needed intensive care. Even if omicron is less deadly than delta, if growth is exponential, we will see many severe cases. We will learn a lot more in the coming days.
The third area we look at is “Will vaccines and testing work with new variant”? PCR tests remain key and work well. Rapid tests are useful for letting you know if you are infectious at that point in time. Most require a second test later and a PCR if you have symptoms and test negative. Work is ongoing to ensure they remain accurate with omicron. There is decreased protection against infection in persons who have been fully vaccinated compared with other variants. A booster dose raises the level of protection, but breakthrough infections have occurred. We expect to see reinfections in people who have been previously infected; these have been reported elsewhere, including people who were infected with delta. Protection against severe disease when fully vaccinated or boosted is anticipated to remain strong. Individuals that are fully vaccinated and have recently received their booster will have the highest level of protection. Vaccination remains our best tool to reduce the impact of omicron in the community.
If we follow the trajectory of other regions, we can anticipate a surge of cases with omicron beginning in the next few weeks. We can expect cases to double every two to three days. This speed will be surprising to many as conditions will rapidly change. Even if we don’t see a change in clinical severity or if we see a decrease in severity, the sheer volume of the increase of cases we expect in the coming weeks will result in increased hospitalizations. We don’t have capacity for that now with delta, so this is incredibly concerning.
We have made phenomenal progress with vaccination, with an estimated 80% of our community over the age of 5 fully vaccinated. While that is a fantastic number of community members vaccinated, it is not enough to control the ongoing outbreak of cases caused by delta and other variants. Vaccination is our primary tool, but it can’t be our only tool, with such high case rates. The more layers of mitigation we use, the better protected we will be.
The choices we make in the coming weeks will impact us all. As cases surge you can expect business to have staffing challenges as their staff are impacted. You may see retailers and other businesses asking people to mask up again as staffing becomes a challenge. We can all take steps to slow the spread of COVID-19 in the community, the more we work together the better we can weather what is coming. I am tired of dealing with COVID-19, I don’t like wearing a mask and I long for the day I don’t worry about my family being exposed to COVID-19, or hearing about stories of tragic deaths or individuals struggling with long COVID-19. I think that day will come and will be driven by all of us diligently following COVID-19 mitigations. We have done this before and are going to need to rally again.
Bloomington Public Health is asking everyone to take the following steps to care for ourselves, our community and to stay safe:
Be cautious with your activities to avoid illness and injury in the coming weeks, as health care access delays are being reported and we expect them to continue. This includes things like wearing a seatbelt, making sure your kids are secured in car seats, and being extra careful when walking on icy areas. Get your flu shot if you haven’t already – it is not too late to do so.
Get vaccinated against COVID-19 and get boosted once you are eligible. This reduces your risk of severe illness.
Wear a high quality mask that seals well around your face when you are in indoor public spaces or are in areas with high levels of community spread. COVID-19 spreads when an infected person breathes, talks, laughs, coughs, or sneezes.
Gather outdoors or in an area with good ventilation. Avoid crowded indoor spaces.
Get tested if you have had close contact with someone with COVID-19, or have any symptoms.
Consider how you can limit your activities to prevent exposure.
If you have a gathering – can you adjust your event to minimize COVID-19 risk? Visit our website for tips at blm.mn/reducing-risk.
Our health care system is stretched to the breaking point. We are a caring community. Show your neighbors you care and do everything you can to ensure a bed remains for those who need it in an emergency. Show our health care partners you care by doing everything you can to avoid needing emergency medical care in the coming weeks. We will get through this together, but we have some serious challenges ahead of us. Please take care of each other.