Minnesota health officials call COVID-19 outbreak 'unprecedented'

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Health officials in Minnesota are now calling the COVID-19 outbreak “unprecedented” and acknowledge the sudden surge of seriously ill patients could be overwhelming to the state’s health system.

Before COVID-19 even existed, the Minnesota Department of Health had Preparedness Strategic Plan on the books that called for an “inventory of ventilators” at hospitals around the state scheduled to be done later this fiscal year. 

The effort has now been accelerated as officials rush to see if they have enough equipment to deal with a surge of patients.

“That is something we are monitoring in our health care branch in terms of our response," said Kris Ehresmann, the head of infectious disease at MDH. "So it's something that we are monitoring but we're not making details public,”

Ehresmann declined to give exact numbers of ventilators and beds in the state, but an MDH spokesman told 5 INVESTIGATES that officials are "finding that we currently have enough ventilators, however, inventory is tight.”

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“I think that what we're dealing with, with COVID-19, is very unprecedented. So I think despite all that planning and preparedness, it's likely we will have challenges,” Ehresmann said.

The goal is to avoid the challenges unfolding right now in Italy.

The country is now the epicenter of the pandemic where the track of new cases is straining the health care system, and where doctors are running out of life-saving equipment.

“I want to be very clear, we're at a critical point here,” Gov. Tim Walz told reporters late Monday. “For us in Minnesota, we needs folks cooperation.”

As part of the state’s preparedness plan, hospitals could end up moving patients to other buildings. For instance, pediatric services or a hospital’s burn unit could be moved to another facility to make way for a sudden surge of critically ill patients.