Local healthcare officials discuss holiday gatherings as COVID-19 surges nationwide

With the holiday season approaching, local healthcare officials in Grand Marais are weighing in with recommendations aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19.

Dr. Kurt Farchmin, a local physician at Sawtooth Mountain Clinic, strongly suggested people break from the normal tradition of a large family gathering, or even any type of group gathering with people from outside your household this year on Thanksgiving.

“I think it is important to name what we mean by being really careful as the COVID numbers get worse,” Farchmin told WTIP with less than two weeks before Thanksgiving. “It means that we do not get together with those outside our family unless it is in a safe environment where people are staying 6-feet apart or getting together outside. It also means that we need to not get together in person for the holidays. This is a hard item, but it is what it will take to keep people safe.”

North Shore Health Hospital Administrator Kimber Wraalstad echoed the sentiments Farchmin shared on the WTIP airwaves, saying difficult decisions will need to be made this holiday season in order to keep the community safe and slow the spread of COVID-19.

The case count continues to climb in Cook County. As of Nov. 15, the total stands at 43 since the start of the pandemic, with multiple active cases in the community at this time.

The virus is spreading in all corners of Minnesota heading into the traditionally busy holiday season. Patients needing medical care and hospitalization rates are skyrocketing from the Twin Cities to Duluth. Farchmin joined more than 170 healthcare officials from Minnesota by signing a statement issued Nov. 12 on stopping the spread of COVID-19. The joint statement reads, in part:

“Hospitals, health systems and health care providers are watching with growing concern as COVID-19 cases quickly increase in Minnesota, fueled by broad community spread in all parts of the state. Demand for hospital care is increasing in both medical-surgical and intensive care units, and the percentage of beds occupied by patients with COVID-19 is growing.”

Last week, Gov. Tim Walz said during a press briefing Minnesota is likely approaching the worst phase of the pandemic and that conditions will get worse if people don’t start changing their behavior.

The governor announced Nov. 10 a set of new restrictions aimed at slowing the accelerating spread of the coronavirus, the Associated Press reports. Bars and restaurants must stop serving at 10 p.m., but can still offer takeout and delivery, and attendance at weddings, funerals and social gatherings will be limited.

The audio below is a WTIP interview with Farchmin from Nov. 11 about the upcoming holiday season.