MINNEAPOLIS — One walk through Regions Hospital's COVID-19 intensive care unit reveals the scope of the medical crisis emerging from a fast-spreading pandemic.
Sixteen sliding glass doors are all closed, and behind each lies a patient struggling to breathe. Almost all are on ventilators because their lungs are too weak to work on their own. Clear tubes carry oxygen into their throats and chests, which mechanically rise and fall as their bodies lie still.
On this Thursday morning, 28 COVID-19 patients are in intensive care, with 12 spilling beyond the designated unit to areas designed for heart problems, strokes and surgical recoveries. A total of 97 COVID-19 patients have been admitted to Regions, which is almost full.
Minnesota's experience with the pandemic suggests one-third of patients on ventilators won't survive, even with optimal critical care.
"When we see so many people suffer and so many people who die, that is painful for us," said Dr. Jerome Siy, head of hospital medicine for HealthPartners, which operates the St. Paul hospital.
The daily scene at Regions is playing out in ICUs across Minnesota as the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 sweeps across the state. Open ICU beds were down to single digits in some parts of Minnesota last week, when Gov. Tim Walz ordered a four-week shutdown of bars, restaurants and entertainment and fitness establishments in hopes of slowing the virus' spread to alleviate pressure on hospitals.
From Mercy Hospital in Coon Rapids to Rice Memorial Hospital in Willmar to Regions, ICU beds are filling as quickly as they are opening up. Statewide, 79% of available ICU beds are filled, and 26% filled with COVID-19 patients.
The state's capacity of open ICU beds has declined about one percentage point per day the past two weeks — raising the probability that some of the 408 ICU surge beds might need to be activated in unused hospital and nursing home wings.
"There's no beds anywhere," said Dr. Matthew Klee, whose ICU at Mercy is full and under pressure to take patients throughout Minnesota and western Wisconsin. "It's become like a game of chess over the entire state."
At one point this month, 30 people were in the Regions ER waiting for inpatient admission due to lack of beds.