MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Gov. Tim Walz on Wednesday said the federal government responded to his “urgent request” and two teams of 22 medical personnel from the U.S. Department of Defense are coming to Hennepin County Medical Center and St. Cloud Hospital.

State data shows most beds across Minnesota are full and there are more than 1,300 hospitalized with COVID-19 as of Wednesday. The state has tapped into surge bed capacity, according to Minnesota Department of Health data.

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“That will help us address some of the surge needs,” Walz said during a news conference by phone in Helsinki, Finland, where he’s on a trade mission.

Dr. Daniel Hoody, interim chief medical officer at Hennepin County Medical Center, said that the hospital has been at capacity for months, but called the last few weeks “as difficult as any since the start of the pandemic.”

He said there are fewer patients ill with coronavirus infections than there were during last fall’s surge. But, patients that need acute care, that don’t have COVID, is much higher.

Together—in addition to staffing shortages—the overall demand for emergency services is higher, he said.

“This will be very helpful from a standpoint of being able to accommodate additional patients that need a higher level of care,” Hoody said. “It really does have a trickle-down effect through all the operations of the hospital and the emergency department in a way that will hopefully improve morale of our frontline workers because we’ll be able to better provide the care to patients in front of us.”

Kathy Parsons, vice president of population at CentraCare—the system St. Cloud Hospital is a part of—described similar problems of staffing and low morale among those healthcare workers who have been on the job for 20 months fighting the pandemic.

She welcomes the federal medical staff as much needed relief.

“I think the big impact isn’t just on St. Cloud Hospital,” Parsons said. “It’s to the people of all the rural communities we serve, people who need care and find themselves perhaps unable to get in.”

Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said “tremendous” demand for federal assistance across the country and in Minnesota outpaces the availability. She hopes there will be federal support in the future.

“We would love to get more, but that would be a question of how many teams are available at the federal level,” Malcolm said.

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Walz also announced that a third alternative care site will be opening in the Twin Cities next week to further help hospital capacity.

Separately, Malcolm told reporters in a Tuesday news conference that Minnesota is prepared to move forward on expanding booster eligibility to all Minnesotans adults. The move will likely come this later week unless the federal government acts sooner.

Hospital leaders say the majority of people sick with COVID in hospital are unvaccinated and they plead with Minnesotans who have not gotten the shots to do so.

Walz also announced that a third alternative care site will be opening in the Twin Cities next week to further help hospital capacity.

Walz suggests another peacetime emergency remains unlikely

Walz suggested that he is unlikely to call another peacetime emergency, which would allow him to issue a statewide mandate or close down bars and restaurants, in response to the latest surge.

Walz said the “tools” to fight the pandemic have changed at this point in the fight because vaccines are widely available.

“It’s not a matter of if it gets bad that you that you do this or you’re avoiding do it because of politics. It’s just not that effective of the tool right now to use that,” Walz said. “There are things that we can do and just to be clear: just get vaccinated.”

But he did cite the political fallout of making that call, since Republicans in the state legislature have sharply criticized emergency powers and would be all but certain to reject extending them after 30 days.

There’s also a perceived threat to his top public health advisor during the pandemic. Senate Republicans have scrutinized Malcolm’s tenure at the head of the Health Department and they have the power to oust department heads by not confirming their post.

“If I don’t have the lead person in charge of vaccinations at a time where we’re peaking, the lead person in charge of decompressing hospitals, the lead person in charge of testing at a time when we need this—that’s the most serious threat to our response that we could have,” Walz said.

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Caroline Cummings