‘We implore Minnesotans to help us’: Gov. Walz, health care CEOs push for all to follow guidelines, restrictions

During the state’s regularly scheduled briefing on the COVID-19 pandemic, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz and health care executives pleaded with those statewide to follow guidelines and restrictions that have been put in place to protect health care workers and hospital capacity.

The message came a day after the governor announced a new set of COVID-19 restrictions, limiting bars, restaurants, fitness centers, entertainment venues and youth sports.

"I know the information and the moves that we’re making to pause for the next few weeks to give our state the opportunity to make sure everyone gets the care they need, that we’re protecting those frontline workers, is hard," Walz said.

He added, "In the long run, the lives we save and the disruption that happens now leads us to a better opportunity both from a health perspective and from an economic perspective and wellbeing afterward."

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During the briefing, Allina Health CEO Dr. Penny Wheeler called the situation the state is in dire.

"We implore Minnesotans to help us," Wheeler said. "There is nothing worse as a care provider than to think that you can’t adequately care for somebody in front of you who needs your services. And we’re getting to that point."

At this time, Wheeler said Allina has over 800 staff that is out due to a positive COVID-19 test or a need to quarantine.

Dr. Cindy Firkins Smith, with Carris Health, took time during the briefing to speak about the hardships health systems in rural Minnesota are experiencing. In Willmar, Firkins Smith said Carris Health is caring for a rapidly increasing number of COVID-19 patients.

"We will be in crisis all too soon," she said.

According to Smith, CentraCare, which Carris Health is a part of, has performed over 10,000 COVID-19 tests in the last seven days, with a positivity rate averaging 22%. In Willmar, Smith said the positivity rate has been about 30%. She said this means about one in three people could test positive.

Like Allina, Smith says Carris Health and CentraCare have had a large number of employees out due to COVID-19 concerns. She said the hospital can have all the beds and personal protective equipment needed but that it means nothing if there are no health care workers to care for patients.

Smith said data shows the exposure that health care workers are experiencing is occurring in the communities, not at health care facilities.

"Not only are our staff exhausted, they are frustrated and disheartened by the number of people who aren’t doing what they must do to stop this virus from spreading," Smith said. "It’s heartbreaking for health care workers to finish an exhausting workday, only to stop at the grocery store to see people not wearing a mask."

She added, "Don’t call health care workers heroes if you can’t put a piece of cloth or paper over your face to protect them."

Smith also implored Minnesotans not to gather for Thanksgiving outside of their households.

"We understand that it’s hard not to celebrate Thanksgiving with the people you love. We all know that. We don’t get to either. The people working in hospitals not only don’t get to celebrate Thanksgiving with the people they love, they’re going to be watching people die that day," she said. "And they don’t want to watch you die at Christmas."

When asked about the recent restrictions put in place by, Wheeler said the measures have come late, but said, "The next best time to start is now."

"First of all, thank you Minnesota, you did give us time to get the space and the stuff," Wheeler said. "Now you need to help us with the staff."

Watch the full news conference via the video player below: