Federal help at hospitals aim to ease pressure

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Amid the surge of COVID-19, the state of Minnesota and M Health Fairview are expanding access to monoclonal antibody treatments.

Monoclonal antibody treatments can help patients with mild to moderate COVID-19 symptoms that started within the past ten days or for those who are at high risk of hospitalization or death.

Gov. Tim Walz’s office said Tuesday that the Minnesota Department of Health will expand the hours and capacity at its St. Paul Clinic. Walz has already requested additional staff support from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for the central region of the state.

Additionally, M Health Fairview is adding around 300 appointments for monoclonal antibody treatment at its Columbia Heights clinic, while MDH will add 140 appointments per week. The efforts will increase the state’s capacity for monoclonal antibody treatments by 50%, according to Walz’s office.

"From the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve worked hard to protect the health and safety of Minnesotans at every turn," Walz said in a statement. "That’s why we’re working on expanding access to monoclonal antibody COVID-19 treatments for Minnesotans, strengthening our efforts to get Minnesotans across the state the resources they need to fight this virus."

Appointments are available online, and walk-ins aren’t accepted.

Since October, the state has been administering about 2,000 doses of the treatment per week, with the peak coming the week of Nov. 10-16 at 2,599 treatments.

"I think that anything that we can do to decrease the burden of suffering from this ongoing pandemic we must do," Dr. Andrew Olson, University of Minnesota Medical Center’s director of hospital medicine, said about the increase of antibody treatments.

"When administered early, after diagnosis [of] onset of symptoms of COVID, can really have an impact on decreasing some of the morbidity associated with it," Olson added about the impact the treatment can have.

This isn’t the only step state officials are taking this week to address the current surge in COVID.

More than 40 military personnel — mostly made up of members of the U.S. Air Force — are in Minnesota to help alleviate the pressure at two hospitals.

For at least the next 30 days, Hennepin County Medical Center and St. Cloud Hospital will have the federal teams in place. The teams include military doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists and support staff.

"Their expertise, coupled with the [Hennepin Healthcare] staff here, will prove invaluable as we work to tackle the rise of the coronavirus hospitalizations in the community," Lt. Col. Brandon Shealey, U.S. Air Force, said at HCMC about his team.

Walz was also at Tuesday’s event to announce the state and federal partnership. He mentioned as he connected with hospital staff at HCMC, they told him operating in the hospital is the hardest it’s ever been right now.

"These moves that we’re making now need to be done," Walz said.

Heading into the holidays, state and health care officials hope the federal help and expanded COVID-19 treatment to keep people out of the hospital will give hospital staff a much-deserved break.