COVID-19 Briefing: Health officials discuss hospitalization data, ending of community surveys

During the state’s regular COVID-19 briefing, state health officials discussed hospitalization data and the ending of a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey due to hostilities faced by survey teams.

Minnesota Department of Health Infectious Disease Director Kris Ehresmann spoke about how the department has updated how it reports hospitalizations.

"Hospitalization and ICU data can show us important things about the pandemic, including how many severe cases we’re seeing and what our health care capacity is," Ehresmann said.

According to Ehresmann, on Thursday, MDH switched to reporting daily on new hospitalization and intensive care unit admission, rather than reporting a static daily count of how many people were in the hospital or ICU on a given day.

"With the change we made to our data yesterday, we’re still providing the same level of information and transparency, we’re just getting more specific with the metrics," Ehresmann said. "We made this change because new hospital and ICU admissions data are more meaningful measures to tell us about the severity of disease than just looking at how many people are in the hospital on a given day."

MDH Assistant Commissioner Dan Huff also spoke about the ending of a CDC Community Assessment for Public Health Emergency Response survey due to hostilities that the survey teams faced.

COVID-19 survey ended in Minnesota after health officials face confrontations, racial slurs

According to Huff, a number of teams were confronted or harassed while in the field.

Huff said some CASPER teams were subject to racial slurs.

Another incident occurred on Sept. 15 in Eitzen, where a team was surrounded by three men, one of whom was armed. The men blocked the team in with two trucks. During the incident, the three men refused to accept their identification as public health workers.

"We hope that this episode gives us all a chance to take a pause and consider how we treat each other during this stressful time," Huff said. "The enemy is the virus, not each other."

Huff and Ehresmann said the hostility to public health workers has gone beyond the CDC CASPER survey teams.

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Ehresmann added that she has received threatening and hostile emails and phone calls.

Huff said local public health officials have reported being harassed, as well as MDH inspectors.

"I think, from my perspective, it’s unfortunate," Huff said. "I know (there are) good people in Minnesota, and I know that we, at our best come together to tackle problems collectively, to tackle problems constructively. And we are not at our best right now, and that is disappointing."

The health officials also spoke briefly about the state being downgraded to "uncontrolled spread" status by COVID Exit Strategy, an independent group of public health and crisis experts.

Ehresmann said the designation comes from widespread community transmission that is seen in the state. According to Ehresmann, over 36% of the state’s cases are due to community spread.

She added the designation is not surprising with the number of outbreaks and spread that is being seen within the state.

"It certainly is a situation in which we can change this, we can make a difference if people are willing to consider those painfully often repeated messages of masking, distancing and avoiding large groups," Ehresmann said.