Essentia weighs in on potential mask mandate

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Hospitals are filling up, including right here in the Northland.

“When you look at the number of beds, both our Med Search beds and our ICU, they are full virtually every day,” said President of East Market at Essentia Health Dr. Jon Pryor. “And we have typically, I would say, around 5-10 patients every day, sometimes much more, waiting for a bed.”

While many beds have Covid-19 patients, there have also been other hospitalizations indirectly caused by the pandemic, according to Dr. Pryor.

“Not all of this is because of Covid. Some of it is directly because of Covid, and some of it is indirectly because of Covid,” said Pryor. “Because sometimes our fear, and we’ve talked about this two years ago when Covid started, that people are going to be nervous coming in for care, and their underlying, chronic conditions are going to worsen. And that’s exactly what’s happening. So people with diabetes aren’t getting their diabetes under control. People with hypertension are not getting their hypertension under control. And therefore, we’re seeing things like more congestive heart failure, more strokes, more heart attacks, and these are indirect reasons.”

As for Covid-19, there was a slight dip in state cases a few weeks ago, but now it’s going up again. Dr. Pryor points to three main reasons for this.

“Number one is omicron, which is highly contagious. Number two, we’re kind of stuck with the number of people who are vaccinated or have gotten their boosters,” explained Pryor. “We’re around 70% in the state of MN, and it seems to be worse in the rural communities. People are just not getting vaccinated. Number three is mask fatigue. People are tired of wearing masks.”

As the City of Duluth considers the decision to mandate masks, Essentia and St. Luke’s have both expressed their support for a mandate.

“I think it’s a really easy decision,” said Pryor. “and I say that because we know that masks help. We are a healthcare system. Our goal is to keep the community healthy.”

Wearing a mask is not just a personal decision, argues Dr. Pryor.

“I think that it’s everyone’s responsibility in my opinion to wear a mask and to get vaccinated,” said Pryor. “Because it’s not just about you. It’s about your mother, your father, your children, your neighbor, your colleague that you work with.”