As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, it brings with it new technology, references and concerns.
The following Q and A is intended to assist the public in understanding the current local situation.
Rainy Lake Medical Center
Question: Could you share numbers about the capacity and limitations of our local resources, as well as some explanation about those numbers?
RLMC: Our inpatient census is running a little higher than normal, however we still haven’t hit our capacity throughout the pandemic. We also have the ability to take care of five active COVID patients, as long as they don’t require a ventilator.
Question: Are people being treated at the local hospital for COVID-19? Are patients sent out to other hospitals if ventilators are needed?
RLMC: Yes, we have had inpatients that are positive for COVID. We have also taken less acute COVID patients from some of our regional partners to free up additional space at their facilities. This was all part of our initial planning and early preparations – they take our patients that require a higher level of care and we take their less acute patients in return. As we have stated previously, we are not able to take care of patients that require the use of a long term ventilator.
Question: Are the local medical resources now stretched by COVID-19 to the point of concern about the ability to handle an increased load - even a short-lived one caused by a multi-car accident, an increase in serious flu cases, other emergencies, etc.?
RLMC: Currently, we could take care of an increased load. However, this can change at any times based on staffing.
Other updates from RLMC:
- RLMC’s COVID Command Center continues to meet daily to discuss what is happening locally and regionally.
- RLMC is part of the state’s Northeast Healthcare Preparedness Coalition, which includes the counties of Aitkin, Carlton, Cook, Itasca, Koochiching, Lake, and St. Louis counties. There are regular calls to discuss planning, beds, transfer ability, etc.
- Because of our proximity to Bemidji, as well as our relationship with Sanford Health, RLMC also participates in the Northwest Health Services Coalition which includes the counties of Becker, Beltrami, Clearwater, Hubbard, Kittson, Lake of the Woods, Mahnomen, Marshall, Norman, Pennington, Polk, Red Lake, and Roseau.
- RLMC’s CEO and CNO also participate in the state’s daily 11 a.m. Critical Care Coordination Center, or C4, call. All of the state’s major healthcare systems, as well as the ones in Fargo and Grand Forks participate. All of the hospitals coordinate every morning and share their space capacity: who has beds, who needs beds, and what their staff situation is. It also allows for employing real-time data on staffing as it assists hospitals in "load leveling" — the term for moving patients around the state as beds fill up in an affected region. At times capacity could be limited in a region which means patients could have to be transported to a facility much farther away.
- RLMC also participates in our county’s weekly Covid-19 Community Response Team meeting.
- Because of our early preparations and efforts, we also continue to have an ample supply of PPE.
- We ask that our community members still continue to mask up, social distance and wash their hands. We know everyone is struggling with fatigue but we have to pull together and continue to decrease cases in our communities to keep one another safe.
International Falls Ambulance Service
Adam Mannausau, Falls fire chief and ambulance director, said Tuesday the ambulance service is not currently experiencing any shortages, including staffing issues, due to COVID-19.
"Keep in mind that can change drastically at any time," he added.
Probable vs. confirmed
In October, the Minnesota Department of Health began posting on its COVID-19 daily update website the number of "probable" cases in addition to "confirmed" cases of the virus.
What's the difference between "probable" and "confirmed," as listed on the MDH website?
The difference in the terms has to do with the kind of tests used that have shown someone to be positive for COVID-19.
"Probable" cases are detected using the new antigen testing equipment approved by the FDA under an emergency use authorization, reports MDH.
In posting the probable cases, MDH is following the guidance of the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists, or CSTE – the independent professional body that determines case definitions for the country.
CSTE guidance calls for someone who has a positive antigen test for COVID-19 to be considered a probable case. The guidance comes amid reports that the antigen tests have lower accuracy than the “gold-standard” polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, test process. However, the cases will receive the same level of case investigation and follow-up as cases confirmed using the PCR test.
Antigen testing is a technology used to determine whether someone is actively infected with COVID-19, just like the lab-based PCR tests that to this point have been the primary testing systems used in the COVID-19 response.
One advantage of antigen tests is that they generate results more quickly than the traditional PCR method. Another advantage is that they can be used by providers who do not have a full laboratory set up to do testing.
MDH cautions that antigen tests are not considered to be as reliable as PCR tests. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has provided large numbers of antigen tests to long-term care facilities to conduct the frequent testing required by the federal officials, but it is not clear whether the antigen testing devices provided to states by the federal government are sufficiently accurate when used to test people without symptoms.
Antigen tests were first approved for use by the FDA in May, and CSTE updated the case definition for COVID-19 to include antigen testing and consider them a probable case in August. MDH received laboratory reporting of the first antigen test results in June.
Find more information about the state's COVID-19 rapid response capacity, see the Department of Health website at