ROCHESTER, Minn. — Over 900 Mayo Clinic staff have contracted COVID-19 in the past two weeks, according to a briefing on Tuesday, Nov. 17, by Dr. Amy Williams, dean of clinical practice.

Williams said that 93% of staff who have contracted the virus did so in the community -- away from the job -- and that the majority of those who contracted the virus at work did so while eating in a break room with a mask off.

Mayo Clinic says employees also could have been exposed while eating with a mask off in campus cafeterias.

"It shows you how easy it is to get COVID-19 in the Midwest," said Williams, during an afternoon press call. "Our staff are being infected mostly due to community spread, and this impacts our ability to care for patients. We need everyone in the communities we serve to do their part to limit the spread of COVID-19."

The 900 staff newly diagnosed with COVID-19 equals over one-third of the 2,981 Mayo employees diagnosed since the start of the outbreak. When you add in staff who are quarantined or taken offline in order to care for relatives, the clinic is currently experiencing a stable shortage of 1,500 staff systemwide, 1,000 in Rochester.

Newsletter signup for email alerts

In other news, with 32 COVID-19 patients hospitalized in the clinic's General Medicine ICU dedicated for the care of COVID-19, the clinic has filled all of its allotted ICU beds for the virus in Rochester, and is in the process of expanding that center by 12 to 13 beds. "We have 32 COVID patients needing tertiary care, and that's not good," Williams said. "It tells us we're in a surge."

The clinic has 18 specialty ICU wards in Rochester total with multiple beds in each, but those floors are designed to treat a host of other patients whose numbers are not decreasing.

Williams said there are currently 73 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 in a non-ICU setting at Mayo, 255 system-wide.

In northwest Wisconsin, Mayo has hospitalized 79 COVID-19 patients, nine in an ICU. In southeast Minnesota, Mayo has hospitalized 11 COVID-19 patients, three in an ICU. In southwest Minnesota, Mayo has hospitalized 38 COVID-19 patients, five in an ICU. And in southwest Wisconsin, Mayo has hospitalized 22 COVID-19 patients, one in an ICU.

"All of our hospitals are really stretched," said Williams, "and many are absolutely full." That said, Williams maintained that "we continue to have capacity for anybody who needs our care."

The clinic is also managing "hundreds and hundreds" of COVID-19 patients in an outpatient setting, including many with the drug Remdesivir, after discharge, freeing up pressure on beds and staff.

Mayo health systems are averaging 5,000 tests a day within its properties. On Sunday, these tests produced 476 positive cases for a 10% positivity rate in the region, and a 20% positivity rate in Mayo Clinic Health System, although those percentages are dropping.

The state of Minnesota reported an additional 5,945 patients with COVID-19 on Tuesday, and 26 deaths.

This story has been updated to clarify employees eating in cafeterias could also be a source of transmission on campus.

As a public service, we’ve opened this article to everyone regardless of subscription status. If this coverage is important to you, please consider supporting local journalism by clicking on the subscribe button in the upper right-hand corner of the homepage.

  • Minnesota Department of Health COVID-19 hotline: 651-201-3920.
  • COVID-19 discrimination hotline: 833-454-0148
  • Minnesota Department of Health COVID-19 website: Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) website.