Local View: A heartrending request: 'Please avoid holiday gatherings'

Small get-togethers of family, friends are driving COVID surge


We’ve asked you to wear a mask. We’ve asked you to practice social distancing. We’ve asked you to wash your hands and stay home when sick.

Now, for our biggest and most painful ask: Please avoid holiday gatherings.

As COVID-19 spreads across our community, this is the time to avoid crowds. At no point during this pandemic has COVID been so pervasive in the Northland. Infections, hospitalizations, and death rates are soaring. St. Louis County reports hundreds of new cases daily. Small gatherings, even among family and friends, are driving much of this surge.

Health care providers like Essentia and St. Luke’s are strained. Our resources already are stretched thin as we confront shortages of staff and beds. A continued increase in hospitalizations could compromise our ability to care for people. For these reasons, we are asking you to reconsider traditional holiday celebrations.

We are concerned about a potential spike in COVID-19 following these gatherings, however modest they may be. So we need your help. Using advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as the Minnesota Department of Health, we recommend alternatives such as a small dinner with only members of your household, planning a virtual meal, preparing and delivering recipes for family and friends in a way that minimizes contact with others, shopping online rather than in-person, watching sports events and parades from home, and limiting travel.


This is a heartrending request. For many of us, the warm embrace of family and friends is the highlight of every holiday season. It’s a time for fellowship, a chance to reconnect. And, after eight months of quarantining, those connections are needed now more than ever. But letting our guard down at this pivotal moment is a recipe for increased COVID-19 spread.

We urge you to remain vigilant. Increasingly, health care workers are getting sick from community transmission. We need those front-line workers who have so selflessly been caring for people suffering from this virus to be safe and available to treat you, a neighbor, or a loved one.

One of the really scary things about COVID-19 is the unknown. You might get infected and come through unharmed. But you could unwittingly spread it to someone more vulnerable who isn’t so fortunate. A recent report from the CDC indicates that people who are COVID-positive infect more than half of their household contacts.

As we enter the winter months, much of our community’s success in reducing COVID-19 is dependent on each of us. Please continue to wear your mask so it covers your mouth and nose. Avoid public settings, parties, and crowds. When that’s not possible, make sure you’re socially distanced. Use good hand hygiene. When you do those things, you are playing a crucial part to keep yourself and others from getting this disease.

We understand people are stressed and feeling alone from the changes wrought by this pandemic. Which is why we don’t make this plea lightly. But we are united in the belief that it’s the right thing to do, because if we don’t take this seriously, it’s only going to continue disrupting our daily lives. It’s going to sicken many more people. We can prevent this by coming together for a common cause.

Despite capacity concerns, we want you to understand this: At Essentia and St. Luke’s, we are ready to care for you. Go see your doctor or go to the hospital if you need medical care. There is a misperception that hospitals and clinics are unsafe when, in fact, we have robust infection-prevention processes in place to keep you and our care teams safe. Furthermore, our medical professionals triage each patient and provide a relevant care plan. In some cases, this may mean recovering at home. In others, it may result in admission to the hospital. In any case, please always seek medical care when needed.

Essentia and St. Luke’s — and so many other regional partners — are working together, communicating and collaborating daily to protect and care for the communities we are honored to serve. That is our singular focus.

We thank you for the sacrifices you’ve already made. The support we’ve received from our patients and communities strengthens our resolve to be here for you. We continue to need that support and cooperation.


Because together we are so much stronger.

Kevin Nokels is president and CEO of St. Luke’s in Duluth, and Dr. Jon Pryor is president of Essentia Health in Duluth. They wrote this exclusively for the News Tribune.

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