To the editor:

We have reached a serious and critical point in our efforts to battle COVID-19.

This virus is not only affecting those overseas or in densely populated areas; it has made its way to rural central Minnesota and is currently spreading quickly right here in our own backyard. Cases of COVID-19 have surged in recent weeks. The trajectory of these cases is predicted to increase throughout the holiday season.

Healthcare facilities and their respective staff have watched as larger regional hospitals within the state have been overrun. Bed space has been depleted; there is no more room. That means COVID-positive individuals that may have otherwise been transferred to a larger hospital must seek care locally, increasing the strain on our local hospitals which are also near capacity. If this trend continues, this crisis will quickly increase and affect our ability to provide care to those who need it. People who could have been saved may succumb to COVID-19.

As the holidays draw near, healthcare leaders in the area have come together to plead that you celebrate responsibly this holiday season. These gatherings can be a significant source of spread and risk the lives of family members and friends. It may not be easy, but we ask you please try to find safe alternatives to these gatherings. Stay home. Call your loved ones or use video chat to communicate.

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Fighting this virus requires a unified front, not just from hospitals but from every single individual. Everyone needs to practice physical distancing, wash your hands regularly, only leave home when absolutely necessary and wear a mask when in public.

COVID-19 is not a hoax or conspiracy. It is a very real virus affecting us all. Please take this message seriously. For us to return to normal life as soon as possible, it must be earned with great effort and genuine care for others.

Daniel J Swenson

Administrator, CentraCare, Long Prairie

Joel Beiswenger

CEO & President, Tri-County Health Care

Tim Rice

President & CEO, Lakewood Health System

Jackie Och

Director, Todd County Health and Human Services

Cindy Pederson

Director, Wadena County Public Health