St. Luke's hospital in Duluth is dealing with an elevated COVID-19 situation, sending scores of employees into quarantine, a union official said.

"More than 100 workers quarantined as of (last week), especially in the cardiac unit," said Rick Fuentes, spokesperson for the Minnesota Nurses Association. "Staffing is very short."

Fuentes said he was not sure of the reason employees were quarantined.

But a cardiac staffer, speaking on the condition of anonymity to protect their job, said the unit was short-staffed partly because members of the cardiac diagnostic staff were quarantined for two weeks following their attendance at a wedding.

Asked how they knew about the wedding, the cardiac staffer said: "Several people told me. It's common knowledge."

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Hospital leadership would not confirm details in a statement to the News Tribune, claiming it is "not able to disclose employee matters."

The anonymous cardiac staffer also said they and others were mandated to get tested after two patients in the unit tested positive.

"People are worried, but we have to continue on with our job," the staffer said.

The staffer has taken two tests in the last several days. The staffer added that one of their co-workers was sent home after a test came back positive while the person, who was asymptomatic, was on shift. COVID-related absences are noted on the department's employee schedule, the staffer said.

St. Luke's did not make staff leadership available for an interview. But Dr. Andrew Thompson, St. Luke’s infectious disease specialist, responded to News Tribune questions about the situation in the hospital.

Dr. Andrew Thompson, St. Luke’s Infectious Disease Specialist (St. Luke's photo)
Dr. Andrew Thompson, St. Luke’s Infectious Disease Specialist (St. Luke's photo)

"St. Luke’s has had a varying number of employees in quarantine over the past six months," he said in a written response in which he declined to confirm the number of employees who are on quarantine. "That number isn’t particularly helpful because quarantined employees have various job titles and locations."

Quarantining is used after a person is exposed to someone with COVID-19. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends people who have been in close proximity to someone who has tested positive to "stay home until 14 days after last exposure and maintain social distance (at least 6 feet) from others at all times."

"St. Luke’s hospital has been very busy in recent weeks," Thompson said. "While we have noted a slight, sustained increase in COVID-19 cases requiring hospitalization over the past month, these patients only represent a small portion of our volume. Increased patient volume does create challenges, but we have plans in place to meet our patients’ needs."

The hospital is using testing as part of a point prevalence survey, Thompson added. The survey is used to help determine how many people have the disease at a given time. The hospital declined to share how many people have tested positive.

"This isn’t unusual, as many health care facilities are performing this when they’ve had cases," Thompson said. "We take the health of our employees and patients seriously, and follow safety processes for employees who have known exposures or attended events with large crowds."

Despite the situation, procedures continue as planned.

"I believe all procedures are still happening," the cardiac staffer said.

St. Luke's employs roughly 2,900 people, according to a 2019 News Tribune report.

"It is critical that the community help to slow the spread of COVID-19 by practicing social distancing, wearing masks, washing their hands and avoiding mass gatherings," Thompson said.