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Wisconsin health care leaders sound alarm

Surge in COVID-19 cases taxing hospital capacities for beds and caregivers.

A nurse writes a note on a window as a team of doctors and nurses performs a procedure on a coronavirus COVID-19 patient in the intensive care unit at Regional Medical Center on May 21, 2020 in San Jose, Calif. Justin Sullivan / Getty Images / TNS

Health care leaders in Wisconsin are warning that if new cases of COVID-19 continue to climb, hospitals may become overwhelmed. They're urging people to stay home, wear masks, and not gather with people outside their household.

UW Health director of infection control Dr. Nasia Safdar said the Madison area is "perilously close" to surpassing its highest hospitalization numbers, "and we don't want to get back to that point."

Safdar, who was joined at a press conference Friday by leaders from other Madison-area hospitals and Public Health Madison and Dane County, warned that unless the infection rate slows, the health care system may not be prepared.

"We're most effective when we are not scrambling for resources, when we are confident in our workforce, in our beds, in our staffing," she said. "But there really isn't a health system that can prepare for a widespread decimation of its workforce, because there's COVID in the community and health care workers are getting it too."

The number of people hospitalized from COVID-19 has grown by 47 percent in the past two weeks, according to data from the state Department of Health Services.


In a media briefing with Gov. Tony Evers on Thursday, ThedaCare president and CEO Dr. Imran Andrabi said 95 percent of his hospital beds were full. With a very high level of disease spread in the northeastern part of the state, he said many staff members have had to stay home from work.

"Sometimes it's not just the number of beds that are available, it's also the people that actually serve the people in that bed," he said.

According to data from DHS, health care workers have accounted for at least 7 percent of the state's total COVID-19 cases since the start of the pandemic.

On Thursday, Evers issued an emergency order allowing more out-of-state health care providers to practice in Wisconsin, should the need arise.

Andrabi urged people to wear masks and stay home whenever possible.

Janel Heinrich, director of Public Health Madison and Dane County, said it's clear that the virus is being spread at in-person gatherings.

"A quick search of the words in our contact tracing interviews of 'Packers' or 'wedding' in the notes indicate that we are creating opportunities," she said. "We're creating opportunities for COVID to spread."

State health officials reported 2,745 new cases of COVID-19 in Wisconsin on Friday.


Wisconsin Public Radio can be heard in the Twin Ports at 91.3 FM or online at wpr.org/news.

Wisconsin Public Radio, © Copyright 2020, Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System and Wisconsin Educational Communications Board.

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