MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Twin Cities hospitals are bracing for the unknown after a Thanksgiving holiday that could mean another surge in COVID-19 patients in the next week or two. Recently, WCCO got a rare look inside the COVID ICU at Regions Hospital where doctors and nurses are feeling the strain.

WCCO shares how helplessness and hope are at play every day.

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“Right now we’re on the 6th floor of Regions Hospital,” Dr. Benji Mathews, chief of hospital medicine at Regions Hospital, said.

It’s a floor that quickly transformed to care and isolate those infected the most seriously with a virus never seen before.

“There’s alarm bells going off. There’s constant noise from the care that the patient’s receiving,” Mathews said. “This patient over here is on a ventilator, has a feeding tube in place constant protocols getting him on his belly then providing oxygenation for him.”

Mathews feels some relief that 20 patients are in the COVID ICU. That’s down from the all-time high of more than 30, two weeks ago. Still, a total of 90 people with COVID-19 are receiving care in different wards at Regions right now.

“We’re stretched. We’re definitely stretched,” he said.

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To be able to share that perspective, WCCO did socially-distanced interviews outside with our photojournalist. After experiencing an asymptomatic case of COVID-19 herself and testing positive for the antibodies, Liz Collin went inside alone.

Surgical masks are now just worn in hospital hallways and common areas. Staff moves to N95 masks and face shields when they’re sharing the same air space with a patient.

“I feel safe in the hospital in the sense that we have not seen many of our colleagues get ill with COVID the majority of people taking care of COVID patients are doing really well. I feel just as safe in the hospital as outside probably more safe in the hospital,” Mathews said.

Mathews leads 100 colleagues through various roles in fighting the virus, including telemedicine conferences that are now the norm. A routine once conducted in a conference room, another reminder of all that’s changed. What hasn’t: a heart for service among a purpose-driven team, along with a familiar call to action with a vaccine nearly in reach.

“Wear a mask, physical distance, do your part. And, I think there’s hope,” Mathews said.

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Liz Collin