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Midwestern Health System CEO Says He Has A Virus And Won’t Wear A Mask

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) – The head of one of the Midwest’s largest regional health systems has told his employees he has recovered from COVID-19 and is back in the office – without a mask.

Sanford Health Chairman and CEO Kelby Krabbenhoft said in an email on Wednesday that he believed he was now immune to the disease for “at least seven months and possibly years to come” and that he was not threatening not pass it on to anyone so wearing a mask would only be for the show.

The email from Krabbenhoft, who is not a doctor, comes as hospitals in the region, including his own network, struggle to keep up with some of the worst outbreaks of coronavirus patients in the country. And this comes at a time when mask wearing remains a politicized issue in many states.

Sanford Health, based in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, has 46 hospitals and more than 200 clinics concentrated in South Dakota, North Dakota, Minnesota and Iowa. It employs around 50,000 people. The Dakotas have the nation’s worst spread rates in weeks, with Iowa close behind, while Minnesota is catching up.

“For me, wearing a mask defies the effectiveness and purpose of a mask and sends a deceptive message that I am likely to be infected or that I could pass it on,” Krabbenhoft wrote in the email, obtained by The Associated Press. “I have no interest in using masks as a symbolic gesture. … My team and I have a duty to express the truth and the facts and the reality and not to foster the contrary.

South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem has refused to impose a statewide mask mandate. North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum did so last week after months of pressure. Other Republican governors, including Kim Reynolds of Iowa, have started changing their mask tenure as their hospitals fill up. Democratic Governor of Minnesota Tim Walz ordered one in July.

Krabbenhoft did not immediately respond to a maintenance request on Friday. But five senior Sanford Health executives sent a follow-up email to employees on Friday in an attempt to reverse his statement.

“We know that words matter and words have power, and we regret that the message has left a lot of people frustrated and disappointed,” said the letter from COO Matt Hocks and others. They went on to say: virus or not, it is recommended to wear a mask when you cannot be socially distant. Our masking policy for Sanford Health remains unchanged. “

In a separate statement, Executive Vice President Micah Aberson said Krabbenhoft’s email was based on his own experience with COVID-19 and his personal views on the virus.

“They don’t reflect the point of view of our health care system as a whole,” Aberson said. “Sanford Health’s position is the same as it always has been – constantly wearing masks, avoiding crowds and staying home if you are sick are essential for the spread of the virus. “

Sanford Health is requiring clinic employees and visitors to hospitals and clinics to wear masks, according to its website. The executives’ statements did not address whether Krabbenhoft should comply with the company’s mask requirements.

The CEO did not explain in his email why he thinks he is immune for at least seven months. Scientists are not yet sure whether having had the coronavirus once protects against future illnesses or how long that protection might last. It’s also unclear how long an infected person can spread the virus, but scientists believe people usually clear it within about 10 days of onset of symptoms, unless they have a weak immune system. or certain other conditions.

Krabbenhoft acknowledged that masks are a good idea for people who have not contracted the virus and are therefore at risk of acquiring it and then spreading it.

“It’s important for them to know that the masks are just smart to use and in their best interests,” he wrote.

But Dr. Kathy Anderson, president of the North Dakota chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said Krabbenhoft’s message was “certainly not helpful” and “a particularly dangerous message to send right now in Dakota. North.”

It’s hard for ordinary people to know what to believe given all the mixed messages they get, Anderson said. And she said it’s important for people to know he’s not a doctor.

“Leaders across the state and across the country need to understand the power of leadership,” Anderson said. “The power of leadership isn’t just about telling others what to do. The power of leadership lies in modeling the behavior that others must follow. “


Tessa Johnson, president of the North Dakota Nurses Association, called Krabbenhoft’s message “disheartening.”

“I think one of the things is we’ve really tried to get public support for wearing a mask and social distancing,” she said. “And when a public figure says otherwise, it confuses people.”

Krabbenhoft told Sioux Falls chief Argus for an article published on Friday that he did not think South Dakota needed a mask warrant. He said his hospital system was well positioned to handle any increase in the number of COVID-19 patients before vaccines became widely available.

“At this point, we think we have this under control,” Krabbenhoft said. “There is no crisis.”

But another major regional health care system, Sioux Falls-based Avera, told a South Dakota lawmaker on Friday it now supports mask warrants after stopping before backing them. In a letter to Democratic Representative Linda Duba, an Avera executive said the organization was “forced to change its position” given the increase in the number of patients with COVID-19, fatigue from its frontline caregivers and support for a healthy workforce and keeping businesses and schools open.

The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises people to wear masks because they help prevent infected people – whether they know it or not – from spreading the coronavirus. It also states that masks can also protect wearers who are not infected, although to a lesser extent.

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Associated Press reporter Stephen Groves of Sioux Falls contributed to this report.

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