Duluth health care experts urge mask wearing despite council rejecting mandate

John Pryor, head of eastern market for Essentia Health, said that while he believes board members made the best possible decision with the information they had on such short notice, Pryor believes authorizations are one of the most important ways to keep the coronavirus pandemic and alternative omicron at bay. .

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Specifically, Pryor said masking, in addition to vaccination, is one of the best ways to keep COVID-19 patients out of hospitals, which nationwide have been facing severe shortages of beds and staff for months on end.

“We know it’s imposed on some people,” Pryor said. “We’ve heard this argument about personal freedom, but if it’s only about you, that’s one thing. When you get sick, it’s no longer about you just because you came to our hospital and we have to take care of you.”

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According to the city, the council received 230 letters between Thursday evening and Monday’s meeting expressing strong views in support and opposition to the mandate proposed by Chancellor Therese Tomanek on Thursday, January 6th. In order to issue an emergency decree, it was generally opposed by Chancellor Derek Medved and Third District Councilor Rose Randorf.

Nick Van Dillen, St Lux’s chief medical officer and co-chair and co-CEO, said in a statement to the News Tribune that he understands everyone is tired of wearing masks.

“However, on behalf of all healthcare workers and essential workers, we are asking that people voluntarily choose to wear masks when in close proximity to anyone outside their home,” Van Dillen said in the statement. “Hide, get away, and vaccinate are our best defenses against COVID-19.”

Luke and Escentia issued a joint statement last week in favor of the mask order. Pryor said that while the health care system continues to stand in support of the mandate, a future measure should be introduced by the city council or the mayor.

Andrea Boyland, an emergency medicine specialist at Essentia and chief of emergency medicine at St. Mary’s Medical Center, has written to the board regarding the rapid timeline for the mask authorization proposal. If the emergency measure is passed, it will take effect immediately in place of the standard introduction where the measure will be read in two separate public sessions before going to a vote, and then take effect 30 days after a simple majority vote is passed. Bohland addressed the board’s surprise about the speed and urgency of the schedule.

“We at local hospitals are similarly surprised by the speed and urgency of the rapid deterioration of our capabilities and staffing status,” Boyland said. “Simply put: We are overwhelmed with grief and heartbroken. I fear other city businesses and schools will face similar hiring nightmares if we don’t do more to slow the spread of this highly infectious new species.”


In another letter to the board before Monday’s meeting, neonatologist and perinatal specialist Ann Simmons wrote that Essentia Health-St. Marie Medical Center has seen an alarming rise in pediatric patients hospitalized for COVID-19, including patients as young as one week old.

“As a neonatologist, I had hoped my specialty would be spared from COVID-19, but now more than ever, this epidemic is reaching every age group in devastating ways,” Simmons wrote in the letter. “These infants and children are critically ill, requiring intubation and mechanical ventilation, and some require transfer to (Twin Cities) due to the need for a higher level of care such as ECMO (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation).”

According to the St. Louis County Department of Health, one pediatric patient was hospitalized with COVID between January 1 and 7. Four pediatric patients were admitted to St. Louis County Hospital in December due to COVID.

“We will probably have Covid with us forever, but what we want to do is take it from the epidemic to the endemic vein,” Pryor said. “But we’re going to have a hard time getting there unless everyone steps forward. If people can’t do it voluntarily, I think there has to be a mandate.”

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