MEMORY POLICE (AP) – The head of one of the largest regional health systems in the Midwest has told his staff that he has recovered from COVID-19 and is back in the office – without a mask.
Sanford Health’s president and CEO, Kelby Krabbenhoft, said in an email Wednesday that he believes he is now immune to the disease for “at least seven months and maybe years to come” and that he is not a threat to transfer it to someone so wearing a mask would only be for exhibition.
The email from Krabbenhoft, who is not a doctor, comes as hospitals across the region, including in its own network, are struggling to keep up with some of the country̵
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 approx. 50,000 people. The Dakotas have had the country’s worst tension rates for several weeks with Iowa close by, while Minnesota is catching up.
“For me to wear a mask defies the effectiveness and purpose of a mask and sends an untrue message that I am susceptible to infection or can transmit it,” 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 give birth to the opposite. ”
South Dakota Gov. Christ Noem has refused to impose a mandate across the state. North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum did it last week after months of pressure. Other Republican governors, including Iowa’s Kim Reynolds, have begun switching to mask mandates which their hospitals fill. Minnesota’s Democratic Gov. Tim Walz ordered one back in July.
Krabbenhoft did not immediately respond to a request for interview on Friday. But five top executives at Sanford Health sent a follow-up email to employees Friday, trying to go back to his statement.
“We know that words mean something, and words have power, and we regret that the message left many frustrated and disappointed,” said letter from Chief Operating Officer Matt Hocks and others. They went on to say: “Whether you have had the virus or not, it is recommended that you wear a mask when you cannot be socially distanced. Our disguise 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 do not reflect the views of our health care system as a whole,” Aberson said. “Sanford Health’s attitude is the same as it always has been – consistently wearing masks, avoiding crowds and staying home if you are ill is critical to preventing the spread of the virus.”
Sanford Health requires clinic staff and visitors to the hospital and clinic to wear masks, according to its website. The management’s statements did not concern whether Krabbenhoft should comply with the company’s mask requirements.
The CEO did not explain in his email why he believes he is immune for at least seven months. Researchers do not yet know if having coronavirus once protects against future disease, or how long some protection may last. How long an infected person can spread the virus is also unclear, but researchers believe that people usually clear it within approx. 10 days after the 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 and then spreading it.
“It is important for them to know that masks are just smart to use and in their best interest,” 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 be sent right now in North Dakota.”
It’s hard for ordinary people to know what to believe because of all the conflicting 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 nation need to understand the power of leadership,” Anderson said. “The strength of leadership is not just in telling others what they need to do. The strength of leadership lies in modeling behaviors that are necessary for others to follow. ”
Tessa Johnson, president of the North Dakota Nurses Association, called Krabbenhoft’s message “discouraging.”
“I think one of the things is that we’ve really tried hard to get public support to wear a mask and social distance,” she said. “And when a public figure says the opposite, it just confuses people.”
Krabbenhoft told Sioux Falls Argus Leader for a story published Friday that he does not believe South Dakota needs a mask mandate. He said his hospital system is well positioned to handle any increase in COVID-19 patients before vaccines become widely available.
“At this point, we feel we have this under control,” Krabbenhoft said. “There is not a crisis.”
But another major regional health system, Sioux Falls-based Avera, told a South Dakota lawmaker Friday that it now supports mask mandates after stopping briefly to back them up before. In a letter to Democratic Rep. Linda Duba told an Avera director that the organization was “forced to change our attitude” given the increase in patients with COVID-19, the fatigue of frontline nursing staff and its support for a healthy workforce and maintenance. businesses and schools open.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises people to wear masks because they help prevent people who are infected – whether they know it or not – from spreading coronavirus. It also says that masks can also protect carriers who are not infected, though to a lesser extent.
Associated Press reporter Stephen Groves of Sioux Falls contributed to this report.