REGIONAL- All fully vaccinated Minnesota adults are now able to get COVID-19 booster shots, following an expansion of eligibility announced Friday by Gov. Tim Walz.Walz wasted no time in acting upon …
REGIONAL- All fully vaccinated Minnesota adults are now able to get COVID-19 booster shots, following an expansion of eligibility announced Friday by Gov. Tim Walz.
Walz wasted no time in acting upon Friday’s recommendation by the Centers for Disease Control that booster shots be available to anyone 18 and older.
“Cases are rising, community spread is high, and Minnesotans are moving indoors for the winter as the weather gets colder and the holidays approach,” Walz said. “Health officials and researchers agree that booster shots help increase protection against COVID-19. Now is the time for Minnesota adults to roll up their sleeves and get their booster shot when they’re due.”
The CDC stopped short of saying everyone 18 and older should get a booster. The guidelines vary according to the type of vaccine an individual received. The recommendations are:
• If you are 50 years old and older and you received either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, you should get a booster a minimum of six months after completing your initial two-dose vaccination series.
• If you are 18 and older and received either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, AND you live in a long-term care setting, you should get a booster a minimum of six months following your initial two-dose vaccination series.
• If you are 18 and older and received the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, you should get a booster a minimum of two months following your initial dose.
• If you are between 18 and 50 and received either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, you may choose to get a booster, based on your individual risks and benefits, a minimum of six months after completing your initial two-dose series.
Those seeking a booster don’t have to have the same brand of vaccine they took initially. Any of the three vaccines can be used for a booster shot.
“Boosters are an important part of keeping protection against COVID-19 high in adults and helping to mitigate some of the intense COVID-19 spread we are seeing right now, which is extremely important given our tight hospital capacity,” said Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm.
Support for getting boosters to pump up waning immunity can be found in the Minnesota data for breakthrough cases of COVID-19 among the fully vaccinated, which amount to roughly 40 percent of the new cases diagnosed each week.
With the number of Minnesotans with at least one vaccination approaching 3.6 million, health officials anticipated breakthrough cases would increase in the overall share of new cases, but fully vaccinated people continue to be at much lower risk for serious illness, hospitalization, and death than the unvaccinated.
Through the first week in October, the most recent period available for breakthrough data, unvaccinated people were four times more likely to contract COVID-19, 14.7 times more likely to be hospitalized, and 18.1 times more likely to die than fully vaccinated people who experience a breakthrough case.
Dozens of Minnesota hospitals had no beds available at the end of last week as the latest COVID-19 outbreak is taxing hospital capacity in a manner not seen since the November/December 2020 surge.
Regionally, intensive care beds continue to be scarce, with just two available on Nov. 18 throughout northeast Minnesota, and six hospitals having none available. Across the entire northern two-thirds of the state, hospitals reported only six ICU beds were still available.
The shortage is affecting patient care here in the North Country. Nichole Chiabotti, director of nursing at Cook Hospital, said finding ICU placements for patients there who need them is hard.
“We are having increased difficulty finding ICU placement across the state and as a result, we often times have to transfer our patients much farther away than usual,” Chiabotti said. “Sometimes finding an available ICU bed takes many hours. If we do find an ICU bed, finding an appropriate ambulance to bring the patient there is also a challenge right now.”
The pandemic has led to the scarcity of beds, but COVID patients constitute only about 30 percent of those receiving ICU care. Seven in ten ICU patients are there for other serious health conditions, but the additional capacity that might have handled others like them has been taken up by COVID patients. Compounding the problem, COVID patients stay longer in ICU care. While the average length of an ICU stay prior to the pandemic was 3.8 days, according to the Society for Critical Care Medicine, one study found ICU COVID patients had an average ICU stay of 13-14 days. One ICU COVID patient staying that average time could potentially prevent three to four non-COVID patients from getting the intensive care they need.
“Anyone in our region that is critically ill or injured will be impacted due to lack of ICU beds statewide,” Chiabotti said. “We do not have any ICU beds in Cook. In the past, we have always been able to stabilize patients and send them to a higher level of care quite easily. That is no longer the case. We still have every capability of stabilizing our patients, however, getting them to a higher level of care quickly is no longer a reality most of the time. We will always do our absolute best to provide the care we can, but with limited staff and resources, we don’t have the capability to provide ICU level of care here.”
Fifty-one of Minnesota’s hospitals also reported Nov. 18 that they had no vacancies of any kind, and hospitals anticipate the space crunch will continue, as increases in hospitalizations typically lag behind increases in cases by two to three weeks.
The hospital situation in the Twin Cities reached the point last week that Gov. Walz asked for and received two U.S. Department of Defense medical teams, 44 personnel in total, to provide assistance and relief for doctors and nurses at Hennepin County Medical Center and the St. Cloud Hospital. The state has already been utilizing National Guard personnel to assist with staffing issues in nursing homes that have created a bottleneck in transferring COVID patients to long-term care settings.
Numbers have been rising steadily in St. Louis County, and if projections from the Mayo Clinic are any guide, residents will be seeing more of the same. The Mayo Clinic model indicates daily cases could increase by 20 percent through the first week of December.
On Nov. 14, the seven-day case average for the county stood at 157.1, an increase of over 50 percent since Nov. 1. The bi-weekly case rate for northern St. Louis County remained high at 81.12, 31 points above last year’s trigger for schools to be serving all children through distance learning.
Ely had 32 new weekly cases in the state report of Nov. 18, by far the highest among the six zip codes monitored by the Timberjay. Tower tallied 12 new cases, while 11 cases were reported for Cook. Embarrass had nine, Orr had three, and Embarrass had two.
Ely schools continued to tally new cases last week, with Superintendent Eric Erie reporting a total current case count of 21 on Nov. 18. ISD 2142 stopped disclosing building COVID case information in September. North Woods School has been on the state’s list of schools reporting cases, but could be prepared to come off if it has one more two-week period with less than five cases.
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