FARGO — Sanford Health has added a third unit to treat patients with COVID-19 and is preparing to open more beds here as the delta variant surge continues to strain hospitals.

Recently during the pandemic, Sanford has been treating COVID-19 patients in an intensive care unit and a medical-surgical unit at its Broadway Medical Center.

“We have opened an additional 10 beds to meet the demand,” Dr. Doug Griffin, a vice president and medical officer, said Tuesday, Oct. 12.

Besides the third unit, which opened last week, Sanford is preparing to add another 18 beds for COVID-19 patients, he said.

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As of Monday, Sanford’s three Fargo campuses had 520 inpatients, including 51 active COVID-19 cases, with 14 in intensive care. Over the weekend, Sanford had about 60 COVID-19 inpatients.

“Our cases are not dropping yet,” and Sanford expects similar case volume for at least the next two weeks, Griffin said. “We’re just not on the back side yet at this point in time.”

The North Dakota Department of Health reported 3,864 active COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, including 736 in Cass County. North Dakota hospitals were treating 181 COVID-19 patients, including 22 in intensive care units.

Sanford continues to accept transfer patients from other hospitals. “We’re still taking a lot of patients transferred in to us,” Griffin said. “We’ve had to transfer very few patients out.”

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Dr. Doug Griffin, a vice president and medical officer at Sanford Health in Fargo. Special to The Forum
Dr. Doug Griffin, a vice president and medical officer at Sanford Health in Fargo. Special to The Forum

Even after the delta wave subsides, Sanford expects its hospital admissions to remain at a high level, as demand for beds continues for a variety of illnesses, including other respiratory viruses as flu season picks up in the winter months.

“We anticipate that our capacity will continue to be stretched, actually, beyond COVID,” Griffin said.

Sanford Medical Center, which still has open space, plans to add 16 beds in January and another 16 beds in February. Once completed, those beds will mean the Fargo hospital, which opened in 2017, has no additional capacity to add beds.

With a Nov. 1 deadline looming for all Sanford employees to be vaccinated, more than 93% have been vaccinated and more will come by the end of the month, Griffin said. “We’re doing well,” he said.

Influenza vaccinations are starting to pick up at Sanford flu shot clinics, which is an encouraging sign, Griffin said.

Another encouraging development: Merck is seeking emergency use authorization for a pill to treat COVID-19. If approved, the pill will give doctors another tool to treat the disease, Griffin said.