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Duluth hospitals continue to prepare for the worst

"I don't think the virus knows anything about Easter," Dr. Jon Pryor, president of Essentia Health's East Market, said.

Dr. Andrew Thompson.jpg
Dr. Andrew Thompson, infectious-disease physician at St. Luke’s hospital, gives an update on the local impact of COVID-19 during a weekly video news conference hosted by St. Luke's and Essentia Health on Thursday, April 9. (Samantha Erkkila / serkkila@duluthnews.com)

Duluth hospitals are preparing for the worst from COVID-19, although they don’t know how bad it will be and when it will happen, officials say.

“We don’t know when the peak will be, and we don’t know how many people will be in our (intensive care units) and need ventilators,” Dr. Jon Pryor, president of Essentia Health’s East Market, said during a weekly news conference Thursday. “But we don’t have as many (ventilators) as we want. And we want to be prepared for the worst.”

Officials of Essentia and St. Luke's expressed uncertainty about what’s coming, and they offered little in the way of a prognosis about when the destructive virus and all of the lifestyle changes it has caused might be over.

“I’m not sure about a return to normal,” said Dr. Andrew Thompson, an infectious disease specialist at St. Luke’s. “We’re going to have to look to a new normal after we have this surge, and how we begin to return to closer to normal functioning.”

All four of the doctors who connected with reporters via social media said they believe Gov. Tim Walz’s "stay-at-home" order and Minnesotans’ observance of that has helped to slow the onslaught of the virus. They lauded Walz’s decision, announced Wednesday, to extend the order — initially scheduled to expire Friday — to May 4.


“There’s lots of evidence that staying at home and social distancing is slowing the spread of COVID-19 and saving lives,” Pryor said.

Whatever time is being bought is being used by the hospitals to prepare as well as possible for the influx of patients they’re expecting, the representatives said.

The doctors declined to give their blessings to small gatherings to mark the religious holidays of Passover and Easter.

“I don’t think the virus knows anything about Easter,” Pryor said.

Added Thompson: “I would say this year, Passover and everything is different. There will be other celebrations in the future, but let’s all try to live until that time when we can celebrate together.”

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