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'We're asking people to do their part:' Health officials urge citizens to be mindful of COVID as holiday nears

Dr. David Wilcox WEB .jpg
Dr. David Wilcox, vice president medical officer for Sanford Health of Northern Minnesota.

BEMIDJI -- An ongoing rise in coronavirus cases has local health providers asking residents to be careful when it comes to gatherings, especially with Thanksgiving next week.

"Like the rest of the state, we have a continually accelerating number of COVID cases," said Dr. David Wilcox, vice president medical officer for Sanford Health of Northern Minnesota. "We have had 30% of our total caseload occur over the last two weeks. We're extended beyond our normal hospital capacity."

According to Wilcox, there are now 35 people in the Bemidji Medical Center for COVID-19 treatment and four patients are in the ICU. In Beltrami County, since the pandemic began, there have been more than 1,600 cases recorded.

"We have surge plans to account for this, and we have further surge plans," Wilcox said. "But, across the entire region and state, hospital beds are maximized. Every day, we're reviewing where beds are available and where ICU beds are available."

In the last few weeks, Beltrami County has had an average of about 45 new COVID-19 cases per day. If cases continue to rise, Wilcox said Sanford's surge plan is to open another part of the Bemidji facility for another eight to 10 beds.


"We've also taken our overall capacity from 109 beds to more than 140," Wilcox said. "Beyond this, it becomes even more of an issue, and we have to consider hotels, National Guard assistance, or hospital tent facilities."

To minimize outbreaks and reign in the surge, Wilcox said, "we're asking people to do their part by masking up and reducing their Thanksgiving intentions when it comes to the number of people."

Wilcox added, though, that this weekend is just as important, too.

"What you do this weekend will make a difference in terms of risk for your Thanksgiving weekend," Wilcox said. "It's important to remember, when you're exposed to COVID-19, you spend several days with no symptoms and can still receive a negative test. Then, you can gradually develop those symptoms up to 14 days after an exposure.

"So, there can be a scenario where a person may go out this weekend, then they could get a test on Monday which would be negative," said Wilcox. "Then, there's the possibility that the person could get sick and be at the highest level of contagion while they're at home for Thanksgiving."

In addition to taking extra precautions before spending time with loved ones next week, Wilcox also said this is a good year to try other ways to connect rather than have large gatherings.

"I think this is the year for innovation," Wilcox said. "Finding out how you can connect with your loved ones without necessarily sitting next to them. One option is a digital Thanksgiving. Use something like FaceTime to share your meal and your loving thoughts digitally. Get creative about activities that don't involve a large gathering, but still involves a human connection that can help our loved ones."

As the holiday season moves on, Wilcox said it's key to get a flu shot, too.


"We know that the flu is a preventable illness and that people can get co-infected with influenza as well as COVID-19," Wilcox said. "The combination can be more deadly than the isolated disease of COVID-19. Keep up with preventing those diseases that we can prevent, because we don't need that extra pressure on our health care system."

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