The ICU at CHI St. Alexius Williston has been full for weeks as the COVID-19 infection rate has grown statewide, the Williams County Board of Commissioners heard Tuesday, Nov. 17.
Dan Bjerknes, president of CHI Williston, told the commissioners that like most other hospitals around the state, an influx of COVID patients has stretched staffing to the limit. There are three ICU beds at the facility, but the larger limitation is having people to care for patients.
“Every hospital has beds, what they don’t have is capacity,” Bjerknes said.
The fact the problem is happening statewide has caused multiple complications. Originally, local hospitals were supposed to stabilize COVID-19 patients and transfer them elsewhere for treatment. As other hospitals have filled up, more COVID-19 patients have had to be treated in Williston.
In many cases, there isn’t another bed for them elsewhere.
“To be honest with you guys, there’s no place to send those patients,” he said. “There’s nowhere else for them to go at this point.”
That means more work for local staff, both for patients who have COVID-19 and others.
“Our ICU’s full right now but we’re still treating patients,” Bjerknes said. “Sometimes that means our nurses take more patients than our models would suggest.”
There hasn’t been any choice, and it doesn’t seem to be slowing down.
“We continue to ask them to do more and more just simply because of what we have to do,” he said.
One goal is to create an outpatient infusion treatment center for COVID-19 patients who need more treatment but aren’t ill enough to require hospitalization.
In addition to the hospital, the CHI respiratory clinic has seen dozens of people daily. The average has been 45 patients a day, but on Monday 60 people had visited before the afternoon.
Most of the tests are sent to the state laboratory, but there is also a rapid test machine used to test first responders. The results come back in about 15 minutes, but also need to be followed up on.
Even as CHI deals with staffing challenges, it’s working to be more efficient. A test that can detect both Influenza A and B, RSV and COVID-19 is in the works, making diagnosis much quicker and less invasive for patients.
“That will be run in house and we’ll be able to get results back very quickly,” Bjerknes said.
During the month of October, the North Dakota Aeronautics Commission reported a total of 47,574 passenger boardings, with numbers steadily increasing over past months.
The numbers amount to a 47 percent retention of the passengers that the airports experienced during the same month last year. This is also the highest monthly demand in airline passengers that North Dakota has experienced since the pandemic began last Spring.
“The positive trend in passenger numbers over the last few months is an encouraging sign that travelers are beginning to once again look at aviation as a safe and cost-effective mode of transportation.” stated Kyle Wanner, Executive Director of the North Dakota Aeronautics Commission. “Domestic airline fares in our state are currently averaging around a 10-year low which has greatly helped to spur passenger demand. Additionally, the recent news of the successful COVID-19 vaccine trials has helped to provide hope that the recovery in air passenger demand will continue into the near future.”
At Williston Basin International Airport, boardings rose from September, rising from 1,340 passengers to 2,037 in October. Year-to-date numbers show Williston at 27,310 enplanements for 2020 versus 73,616 for 2019.
Service at XWA had been reduced due to the pandemic, which contributed significantly to this year’s lower numbers. Service began to pick up again in October with the addition of a second daily departure from United Airlines.
“XWA is continuing to see modest growth as we head into the holiday travel season.” Airport Director Anthony Dudas told the Williston Herald. “We saw a 45 percent increase in passengers in October as compared to September and that can be directly attributed to United Airline’s addition of a second daily flight to Denver. We’re excited that this additional flight has been well received by our community and we’re optimistic that our community will continue to utilize XWA as we navigate the challenges associated with the pandemic.”
Full statistics can be found on the North Dakota Aeronautics Commission website at www.aero.nd.gov.
In a message sent Tuesday, Nov. 17, the Williston Police Department reminded the public of Gov. Doug Burgum’s mask order and other executive orders designed to slow the spread of COVID-19.
The mask order, issued Friday, requires masks inside businesses and other public spaces, as well as outdoors when social distancing isn’t possible. The message from the department asks people to follow the measures Burgum instituted. Burgum asked police to prioritize education about why masks prevent the spread of COVID-19, but violations could result in a fine.
“The Williston Police Department encourages all the residents, business owners, managers and visitors to our great city to follow these new measures set by Governor Burgum,” the message reads. “This will allow our officers to continue to respond to calls for service and emergency responses while helping slow the spread of the coronavirus. The Williston Police Department will coordinate its efforts with the State Attorney when a reported violation occurs. For egregious violations, putting the public health at risk, those violators can be cited for an infraction, that can carry a fine of up to $1,000.”
The message also pointed out there are exemptions to the order, which are available online at health.nd.gov.
The message came one day after a letter from McKenzie County Sheriff Matthew Johansen indicated he would not enforce the mask order.