Minnesota residents deliver emotional plea to fight coronavirus: “If we don’t act now, God help us”

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Minnesota Governor Tim Walz used his COVID-19 briefing on Tuesday to highlight the stories of four residents who have been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, telling the reporters he did not want to “lose the humanity that’s in the middle of this.” The briefing comes days after new state restrictions came into effect and as Walz and other local leaders are urging residents to stay home during the holiday season as cases spike. 

Walz’s new restrictions, which target social gatherings among young people, went into effect on Friday. Indoor and outdoor private social gatherings are now limited to no more than 10 people from a maximum of three households, and bars and restaurants are limited to 50% capacity both indoors and outdoors with a maximum of 150 people. 

The first speaker was former state Representative Nick Zerwas, who is currently recovering from COVID-19. Zerwas said that he went to the hospital after he was “barely able to stand” after walking down the stairs and that he then spent five days in the ICU. “I became so overwhelmed and ill from this virus,” he said. “It happened so quickly and it progressed so fast.” 

Zerwas was able to leave the ICU after treatment with convalescent plasma, remdesivir, and steroids, he said. As someone born with a congenital heart defect, he said he considered himself very lucky. 

When asked by a reporter about his previous criticisms of lockdowns in the early summer, Zerwas, a Republican, said the state is facing a radically different situation in November due to an increase in community spread. 

“Everything has changed. The virus is here. If we don’t act now, God help us,” he said, adding, “We are pushing our system to the brink. If we don’t respond now, I fear it might be too late.”  

The second speaker was the mother of a 17-year-old girl who had been diagnosed with the virus. Sarah Winston said her daughter suffered from a fever of 104.5, as well as heart failure, kidney failure and liver distress in the ICU. Her daughter eventually recovered, but Winston said there was a time when they both weren’t sure if she would survive the virus. 

She was followed by Dr. Jon Cole, a Hennepin County Medical Center emergency physician who was diagnosed with the virus alongside his wife and four children. No one in the family was hospitalized, he said, but he described the two weeks the family felt symptoms as an “awful experience.”

Cole also spoke to the stress he’s seen placed on the state’s hospital system as COVID-19 cases rise. He said a “substantial number of nurses and doctors” have been calling out because they need to quarantine or have tested positive for the virus. “It isn’t just a shortage of beds or ventilators or equipment — we could be heading toward a shortage of health care providers,” Cole warned. 

The final speaker was Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan, whose brother died in March after being diagnosed with cancer and COVID-19. Flanagan said she’s seen “remarkable cruelty” toward families like hers who had loved ones with other conditions who died from the virus. “They still had life left to live, and COVID stole years from them and from their families,” Flanagan said.  

“There are empty seats at the table that will never be filled again, and we have to take this seriously,” she added. “Please do everything you can to keep your tables filled next year.” 

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