By Erin Hassanzadeh

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — After 20 months of a global pandemic, day-to-day life is inching back to normal.

But inside Minnesota hospitals, it’s a much different story.

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The state says so many COVID-19 patients are filling hospitals that only 46 ICU beds are available right now.

The federal government is sending medical teams to help at Hennepin Healthcare in Minneapolis and St. Cloud Hospital.

But this crisis can be easy to ignore outside hospital walls.

“We could’ve beaten this,” said David Barkmeier of Columbia Heights.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says COVID-19 is spreading faster in Minnesota than anywhere else in the country.

“It scares me,” said Audrey Murray, also of Columbia Heights.

But it doesn’t always feel that dire when you’re out at the mall or grocery stores caught up in the holiday hustle.

“I really believe people have gotten more comfortable,” said Natalia Dunn of Bloomington, adding: “Maybe we should’ve expected it with people not wearing masks not taking precautions.”

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For North Memorial COVID ICU nurse Mary Turner, that disconnect is alarming.

“All 13 beds are COVID again, looks just like it did a year ago in December before we had the vaccine,” Turner said. “I don’t know if people want to hear it anymore. The nurses at times are feeling discouraged on a floor like mine.”

Now there’s ample PPE and vaccines, but there are fewer nurses, Turner says. And there’s just as many final goodbyes to her patients.

“It leaves a mark on your soul, it really does,” Turner said.

It’s real for Audrey Murray, too.

Her brother just survived a breakthrough case. He had to go to Wisconsin for care because there was not space for him near his home.

“It’s very scary for me,” Murray said. “He was in the hospital for about four weeks.”

A doctor from Hennepin Healthcare told WCCO it’s time to be thoughtful about what we’re doing, even if you’re fully vaccinated. Some examples include masking at crowded places like grocery stores or testing before you go to an event that is indoors and unmasked.

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Erin Hassanzadeh