By Jeff Wagner

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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — As Minnesota’s health care system prepares for a rush of patients needing treatment for COVID-19, Gov. Tim Walz said it’s possible the state will look beyond hospitals for help.

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“Working with the [Army] Corps of Engineers, we will be able to transfer our arenas or our stadiums into hospitals,” Walz said.

While he wouldn’t give details as to which arenas were on their radar, Dr. John Hick with Hennepin Health care said the choices also include hotels or public buildings. However, these options are not the immediate focus, according to Dr. Rahul Koranne, president and CEO of the Minnesota Hospital Association.

“The first order of business right now is to understand what we can do within the hospital walls to take care of the surge that might be coming towards us,” Koranne said.

For example, Bethesda Hospital in St. Paul has been converted to strictly treat COVID-19 patients. Hennepin Healthcare is prepared to add 38 ICU beds if necessary.

Gov. Walz said the state has a total of 235 ICU beds. Had Minnesotans not done any social distancing, he said all the of the beds would have been filled in six weeks. Through social distancing, it should be pushed to 11 weeks.

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As health care facilities work to make those changes to house COVID-19 patients, Abbott Northwestern in Minneapolis has already made some serious headway.

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Director of Operations Steve Waderich says that in just 10 days, Abbott Northwestern converted 63 patient rooms into suites with negative airflow, meaning air moves in instead of out when you open the room’s door.

“We thought it was going to take weeks,” Waderich said.

It’s critical, considering the virus attaches to airborne particles.

“We want to keep the airflow going in towards the patient care so that it doesn’t get out into the common corridors, where our staff might be walking, and folks might be out in that area,” Waderich said.

Reallocating staff and making sure they have enough personal protective equipment, as well as equipment needed for patient care, are the next priorities.

But Dr. Koranne said the best way to ensure hospitals don’t get overwhelmed is for people to continue social distancing and stay at home.

He added that more ICU beds have become available recently statewide thanks to people who’ve canceled elective surgeries.

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Dr. Hick also says Minnesota has more than 1,000 ventilators, with half of them in the Twin Cities.

Jeff Wagner