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Rochester, MN (KROC-AM News) - The surge of COVID-19 activity in the Rochester area and throughout the Midwest has top Mayo Clinic officials concerned about the impact it could have on the health care system's ability to care for those who become ill because of the virus or need treatment for other healthcare issues.

Dr. Amy Williams, who serves as the Chair of Mayo Clinic Practice in the Midwest spoke with reporters today and indicated the "situation is concerning" with staffing being the most critical issue. She says the huge increases in COVID-19 infections that are occurring locally and throughout the region are having a significant impact on Mayo Clinic employees. Dr. William says there are currently about 1000 Mayo Clinic employees in the Midwest absent from work due to "COVID reasons." She says that includes caring for an ill family member, having to quarantine because of a family member's exposure, and staff members infected by the virus.

In her presentation, Dr. Williams noted Mayo Clinic employees face very little risk of being infected by exposure to patients and over 93-percent of COVID-19 exposures involving staff occurred in the community. She says that emphasizes the need for everyone to protect themselves and others by avoiding large groups of people and other risky situations, practicing safe social distancing, masking, robustly washing hands, and following hand hygiene.

Dr. Williams also shared statistics that illustrate the magnitude of the COVID surge. She says the demand for testing through the Mayo Clinic has risen from around 13,000 or 14,000 tests per week in the summer to around 30,000 per week and that number is climbing. She says the positivity rate, which had been under 5-percent until recently, is now around 10-percent and rising in the Rochester area and has skyrocketed above 30-percent in the areas of northwestern Wisconsin served by the Mayo Clinic Health System.

The number of COVID patients in the hospital has also greatly increased in recent weeks. Dr. William says the number is highly volatile and was above 90 in Rochester today. Statewide, the health department reported COVID-19 hospitalizations were at an all-time high above 1200 and almost 250 of those patients were being treated in intensive care units. The Minnesota Department of Health today reported just over 4900 new COVID-19 infections and 23 additional coronavirus related deaths.

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