Mayo Clinic Health System in Mankato flyover (copy)

Two C-130 aircraft flew over the Mayo Clinic Health System hospital in Mankato in May to recognize frontline health-care workers during the pandemic. Statistics on one national website suggest the facility, like other larger medical centers in the upper Midwest, continue to provide in-patient treatment for numerous COVID-19 patients.

Q: Are statistics available for the number of patients hospitalized with COVID in the Mayo Health System hospital in Mankato? Are the statistics for current hospitalizations on the Blue Earth County Covid website for all hospitalizations or just COVID patients?

A: Brian Arola, who covers health stories for The Free Press and has been a very busy reporter the past year, said there is no specific and timely information available on the number of COVID patients at the Mankato hospital.

“Mayo declines to release numbers for current hospitalizations,” Arola said.

Arola pointed to one source of hospitalization data — the COVID Tracking Project created by The Atlantic. The publication has a map showing hospital data compiled by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The most recent information for the Mankato hospital was for Feb. 19 and stated that the hospital had 17 adult COVID-19 patients, people who could have been from any county in the region. The COVID patients were 12% of the population of patients hospitalized at that time.

The Mankato hospital was a busy place, according to the data, with 89% of adult inpatient beds in use and just a single intensive care unit bed available. That was the case at several regional hospitals in outstate Minnesota, where the data suggested smaller hospitals had no in-patient COVID-19 patients, apparently sending them to facilities in the metro area, Mankato, Rochester, St. Cloud, Bemidji and bordering state hospitals in places such as La Crosse, Wis.; Fargo or Grand Forks in North Dakota and Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

The highest numbers in that Feb. 19 report were Mayo in Rochester with 36 beds occupied by COVID patients, and Abbott Northwestern Hospital, which had 34 and had no available ICU beds. The Sanford Medical Center in Sioux Falls had 34, and the other hospital in that city — Avera McKennan Hospital — had another 18. The St. Cloud hospital had 23 patients and 97% of adult beds in use overall.

The Atlantic, after a year of compiling the nationwide COVID information, is stopping its collection of new data today.

As for the Blue Earth County website, until recently there was information that intended to show how many county residents were currently hospitalized with COVID-19, either in Mankato or at another hospital. But the numbers seemed excessively high when compared to the number of Minnesotans overall who were currently hospitalized with the disease.

County communications manager Jessica Anderson said the hospitalization data came directly from reports issued by the Minnesota Department of Health. But after being presented with the reader’s question, Anderson looked more closely at the numbers and became skeptical about their accuracy.

The last number on the site dated back to mid-February, when it suggested 80 Blue Earth County residents with COVID-19 were currently hospitalized at one facility or another. That seemed way too high, considering MDH was reporting that less than 300 Minnesotans were hospitalized with the disease across the entire state. (Blue Earth County residents represent about 1.2% of Minnesota’s population, but the COVID stats on the county website suggested that county residents made up more than 25% of the COVID patients in the state.)

“... So I didn’t feel the data on our website was accurate enough to continue displaying,” Anderson said, adding that it’s easier to track the cumulative number of county residents hospitalized since the beginning of the pandemic locally in March of 2020 than it is to calculate how many are currently hospitalized.

Contact Ask Us at The Free Press, P.O Box 3287, Mankato, MN 56002. Call Mark Fischenich at 344-6321 or email your question to mfischenich@mankatofreepress.com; put Ask Us in the subject line.

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