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Wisconsin officials issue public health advisory, plead with people to take precautions with omicron variant

Health officials expect COVID-19 cases to surge with omicron variant.

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A model of the novel coronavirus, which originated in Wuhan, China in late 2019. U.S. health officials have stated that COVID-19 is expected to become a significant public health concern in the United States. (Illustration courtesy of Centers for Disease Control)
Contributed / Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services has issued a public health advisory Monday, Dec. 20, asking Wisconsinites to take COVID-19 seriously and do their part to slow the spread of the virus.

The call for help comes as more cases with the new omicron variant are detected in the state, which could further stress hospitals.

DHS issued the health advisory because the new strain of COVID-19 is highly contagious. The same day, Dane County extended a local indoor mask mandate until Feb. 1 as a legal challenge to that mask order by the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty was accepted by the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

Both state and local officials say there could be a rapid increase in disease activity in the coming weeks.

Some hospital systems hit hard by COVID-19 — and an increase in patients needing other care — are delaying nonurgent surgeries, including Aspirus and Marshfield Clinic, where chief medical officer Dr. William Melms said more than 100 patients had to seek care elsewhere.

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"Space is tight in our facilities, but mostly we just don't have the staff to care for everyone who needs our help," Melms said during a briefing with state health officials Monday.
"And while I respect that vaccination is a personal choice, it is important that everyone understands that our health care organizations have been pushed to the breaking point, and it is quite possible that omicron will push us beyond the breaking point," Melms continued.

State data indicate nearly 96% of intensive care unit beds in Wisconsin are in use.

Of recently sequenced cases in Wisconsin, 40% are the omicron variant . State officials have detected 19 omicron cases, up from only five last week when Dane County announced three cases .

Health officials across the United States and Wisconsin are urging people to get the COVID-19 vaccine and a booster, if they are eligible. They are also asking people to take proven mitigation efforts, such as wearing a mask, getting tested before celebrating the holidays with people outside your home, keeping gatherings small, staying home if you feel sick, and getting tested if you have COVID-19 symptoms — regardless of vaccination status.

"To prevent the spread of disease and protect yourself and loved ones this holiday season, we urge Wisconsinites to plan ahead," DHS Secretary Karen Timberlake said in the release. "Keep holiday gatherings small, stay home if you have been exposed or are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, and get tested before spending time with people you do not live with."

To get tested, reach out to local health departments , community testing sites , pharmacies and health care providers. At-home COVID-19 tests can also be used. DHS mails free at-home collection kits .

To find a COVID-19 vaccine, visit vaccines.gov or call 877-947-2211.

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Wisconsin Public Radio can be heard locally on 91.3 KUWS-FM and at wpr.org .

Wisconsin Public Radio, © Copyright 2021, Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System and Wisconsin Educational Communications Board.

Related Topics: CORONAVIRUSWISCONSIN
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