Local View: Precautions in place, it's OK to go back to Essentia


Since about the middle of March, you’ve been encouraged to stay home whenever possible. That remains sound advice — unless it’s preventing you from seeking much-needed medical care.

At Essentia Health, we understand your reluctance to visit the hospital over fears of COVID-19. But ignoring severe symptoms and delaying care can be dangerous. Please be assured that we have used the past two months to prepare for your return. Listen to your body’s warning signs and know that we are working tirelessly to protect our patients and staff.

One thing that hasn’t changed during this pandemic is that your health is our highest priority.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz has announced an expansion of elective surgeries and non-essential appointments. These had been postponed so health care systems could concentrate their resources on responding to COVID-19. As we get ready to welcome additional patients, Essentia Health is taking several steps to safeguard our facilities while continuing to follow guidance from state departments of health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

All staff, patients, and visitors are required to use designated entrances, where they will answer screening questions and have their temperatures taken. Everyone must abide by our universal masking policy. In the absence of a face mask, they will be given one. Covering mouths and noses is an effective way to contain a virus that is spread by droplets.


Visitor access will continue to be restricted, a difficult decision but one that reduces the likelihood of COVID-19 transmission.

Importantly, we have rerouted traffic within our hospitals to isolate COVID-19 patients. Rooms have been converted to create negative air flow, which traps viruses and bacteria.

We are rigorously cleaning and sanitizing all of our rooms, those that house COVID-19 patients and those that do not. This includes intense processes aimed at killing viruses and bacteria, such as UV light technology. These enhanced cleaning standards demand significantly more time and resources, but they promote peace of mind that our patients will be seen and treated in the safest environment possible.

As we resume elective and time-sensitive surgeries, we will methodically evaluate those patients on whom we will be operating; 72 hours beforehand, a COVID-19 test will be administered and, if negative, the patient will be quarantined until their procedure. We also have the ability to rapid test on the day of a procedure. In both instances, the results will determine whether it’s OK to move forward.

While much of the world has grinded to a halt, we recognize that our patients can’t hit “pause” on their health concerns. Many of them have waited to receive care and have not gone to a clinic since the start of this pandemic. But they can’t do so indefinitely. Essentia has found creative solutions to provide treatment from afar, like virtual visits, of which we’re conducting between 3,000 to 3,500 per day. Oftentimes, though, there’s no substitute for face-to-face appointments. We’re ready to responsibly and carefully resume these.

From a (social) distance, of course.

If you’re visiting one of our clinics, a few changes will be evident. For example, you will be directed to practice prudent social distancing, most notably at the registration desk. Chairs in our waiting areas are spaced farther apart than normal. Everyone at Essentia is wearing a mask; please help us conserve our supply of personal protective equipment by wearing your cloth mask when you arrive. It’s also important to note that we are establishing immunization clinics that decrease the chance of exposing healthy people to illness.

Essentia is strongly positioned to deliver safe, timely care thanks to our diligent conservation of personal protective equipment and our increased capacity to test for COVID-19. We’ve been preparing for this, and we’ll continue to prepare, because nothing is more important to us than the wellbeing of our patients, staff, and communities.


Retaining this little slice of normalcy does not mean our attention will be diverted away from the coronavirus crisis. We will proceed carefully and in a phased approach. The surgeries we perform will be ones that have a minimal impact on our hospital-bed capacity and use of personal protective equipment. This is by design; we continue to expect a surge of COVID-19 patients, and we want to ensure we’re ready for it.

Thank you for your patience during these uncertain times. And thank you for your trust in Essentia Health.

Dr. Jon Pryor of Duluth is president of Essentia Health’s East Market, and Dr. Anne Stephen of Duluth is chief medical officer of Essentia Health’s East Market. They wrote this for the News Tribune.

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