By Liz Collin

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — One of the Twin Cities top doctors believes the next few weeks will be critical in the fight against COVID-19. The chief of hospital medicine at Regions leads 100 employees in several COVID wards. Dr. Benji Mathews told WCCO’s Liz Collin that Regions is caring for 90 patients with the virus right now.

Mathews told Liz they’re doing alright when it comes to hospital capacity at this point, but more than 700 employees are out of work within the entire Health Partners system due to either a confirmed COVID case or exposure.

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What follows is a partial transcript of their discussion:

Dr. Benji Mathews: It is the most we’ve seen at Regions Hospital here. Two weeks ago we were in the 70s, and we were in a relative calm a month or two ago. To see that rise come in an exponential rise has been troubling. … Many in the community might not see what we are seeing yet. We cannot unsee what we are seeing. Someone who is lying on their belly, breathing on a ventilator, with a feeding tube, fighting for their life. For me those are potentially preventable deaths and how can we maximize that prevention and that’s some of the message I’m hoping to share.

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Liz Collin: How long do you feel from your perspective do you feel this surge will last?

Mathews: We’ve been tracking multiple models. They’re all aligning the peak would hit right around Christmas. Trying to minimize that. The governor’s policies this week probably change those inputs. The hope is Christmastime flattening the curve and that surge will start flattening. … The good news is in regions that have temporarily closed bars, restaurants and limited gatherings have worked. In two weeks even. It happened in France. It happened in Arizona this summer. Places that reopened too quickly the cases rebounded. … We are in a better place in our personal protective equipment. That’s a positive. We have better protocols in place, work flows in place, our teams are more comfortable, the medications are not perfect. The second surge I think we’re able to take on more. Yes it’s taxed, and we also have this hope with the vaccine. We see that light at the end of the tunnel and hoping to get through this all together.

Collin: How is morale among your staff at this point?

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Mathews: We’ve tried to bridge a little bit with peer support programs for clinicians, for nursing staff. It’s taxing. It’s worse than in May, but my hope is we band together. … My ask is that the community join us in the holiday season to serve the larger community and to stay at home in their own households to help us in this effort.

Liz Collin