Doctors to Willmar community: This is a serious disease, do the right thing
A group of physicians and other members of the Willmar medical community conducted a news conference Wednesday to plead with people in the area to use safety precautions and to avoid large holiday gatherings to try to tamp down the recent surge in COVID-19 cases in Kandiyohi County.
WILLMAR — To try to understand the breathing problems of someone with COVID-19, put a wet towel over your face and try to breathe for a while, suggested Dr. Fred Hund, a physician at Rice Hospital in Willmar.
“Shortness of breath is the worst human suffering there is. ... That’s the kind of suffering we’ve seen,” Hund said Wednesday morning at a news conference at Carris Health-Willmar Lakeland Clinic. He is a hospital medicine specialist and chief of the Carris Health-Rice Memorial Hospital medical staff.
“This is not just the flu,” he said.
The news conference, which featured a handful of Rice and county public health officials, was intended to be a splash of cold water in the face of people who don’t seem to be taking the coronavirus pandemic seriously.
They were addressing their comments to people who don’t use basic safety precautions and think COVID-19 is not that serious.
They are hoping that everyone in the area will make an effort to be a good Minnesota neighbor and take precautions — wear masks, wash hands, practice social distancing and avoid large gatherings. That includes the upcoming holidays.
Cards, pizzas, doughnuts and other signs of appreciation from the community are great, Hund said, but the biggest sign of appreciation would be taking the recommended precautions.
“You can call this whatever you want, but there's nothing in medicine other than a viral respiratory pandemic infection that will do what this is doing,” said Dr. Lucio R. Minces, an infectious disease specialist.
“This is not a natural event,” he said. “This is a virus; all it does is replicate.”
To those who believe they are young and healthy and won’t get COVID-19, “you are part of the problem,” he said. “This is exactly what we are seeing. People get together, they have no symptoms, and they transmit it.”
Any help from a vaccine is months away, and available treatments are “far from great,” he said, because viral respiratory infections are hard to treat. “Every indication is this is going to get worse, and worse and much worse.”
With holidays and winter months approaching, the recent surge in cases is expected to continue to worsen.
For every 100 people with COVID-19, two are likely to die over the next few weeks, Hund said. Ten to 12 people of that 100 will be hospitalized. Of the people who end up in intensive care, at least half are likely to die.
People can have no symptoms and spread the illness for about two weeks, all while feeling fine themselves. However, they could spread it to someone who could die.
It can take weeks for some people to recover, and they can be left with a lifelong disability after having COVID, from heart or lung damage.
Kandiyohi County, along with the rest of Minnesota, is experiencing a surge in COVID-19 cases that dwarfs what the county saw in a previous surge in May, said Jennie Lippert, director of health and human services for the county.
Cases began to rise about a month ago, and the county now has an average of 65 new cases per day over the past two weeks, she said. Deaths are rising, too.
In the spring, the county averaged 17 cases per day.
The virus is spreading in every community in the county and in multiple settings, Lippert said.
More than 40% of the patients at Rice on Wednesday were admitted because of complications of COVID-19, said Dr. Ken Flowe, an emergency physician and a co-leader of the team overseeing the Carris Health response to the pandemic.
The physicians talked about the heroic efforts of nurses, nursing assistants and the rest of the staff members at the hospital and at area clinics and nursing homes.
People with COVID-19 can be in the hospital for many days, even weeks, the physicians said, and they can be severely ill. The care they require is labor-intensive.
A more common hospital stay before the pandemic was a few days.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Dr. Mike May, a hospital medicine specialist.
“It’s a challenge” for the entire team in the hospital, he added. “Everybody is feeling the strain. ... We’re dealing with a lot of challenging issues, and we’re making hard decisions for patients who are really sick.”
Visitor restrictions have been flexed up and down since the pandemic started. Currently, one family member is allowed to be with a patient in the hospital, but that’s expected to change if the surge continues.
“This is an illness that none of us have seen before,” May said. “For patients who are really sick, it’s supportive care and time.”
Hund, who serves on a statewide committee developing a plan, said if the situation continues on its current path, hospitals could be in the position of deciding which patients receive the limited resources available. He gave the example of five patients needing ventilators when only three are available. A protocol has been developed to help decide who gets the ventilators.
“I think people need to know that that’s what we are talking about, that those are the kinds of things we have in place because that is not an abstract possibility anymore,” he said.
People in all parts of the medical community are tired and burned out, “and we’re only in the third inning of this ball game,” Hund said.
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