As Wisconsin faces a second winter in the fight against COVID-19, new infections are just as high as last December. A record number of patients are on ventilators and some hospitals reject sick and injured people, who are then sent to facilities hundreds of miles away.
In one day, 28 patients who recently sought care in Green Bay — including three people with stroke — had to get care elsewhere, said Dr. Ashok Rai, President and CEO of Prevea Health.
“One family had to travel more than 200 miles to get the care they needed back. This wouldn’t happen if we had the beds and staff available,” Rai said during a briefing with state health officials on Thursday, where she said she was in the process of getting the care she needed. said the high rates driven by the delta variant put a strain on hospital capacity.
Statewide, 97 percent of intensive care beds are in use, and beds are not available in some parts of Wisconsin. Data from the Wisconsin Hospital Association shows that the Fox Valley had zero ICU beds and no intermediate beds as of Wednesday. It was the same situation in western Wisconsin.
Still, Health Department secretary Karen Timberlake said an emergency or field hospital like the one in West Allis that was set up early in the pandemic is not needed at this time.
“We have room for people. We need to make sure we have enough staff along the continuum of care,” she said, noting that the state has contracted with agencies to provide additional health workers in hospitals and has relaxed regulations , so that certified nursing assistants can be trained more quickly to fill staff shortages in nursing homes.
The seven-day average number of COVID-19 cases in Wisconsin rose to 3,015 on Thursday as researchers around the world try to determine how quickly the latest variant, omicron, is spreading — and whether it causes more serious disease. Omicron has not yet been found in Wisconsin, but it has been detected in Minnesota, officials there confirmed Thursday.
Nearly all cases sequenced in Wisconsin are the delta strain, which Rai says leads to patients who are younger, sicker and need longer care.
More patients than ever are on a ventilator, Timberlake said. On November 30, 688 people with COVID-19 required mechanical assistance to breathe. The previous high was 638 on November 18, 2020.
State health officials urged everyone ages 5 and older to get vaccinated against the disease and for adults to get booster shots, pointing to data showing that unvaccinated people are nine times more likely to be hospitalized for COVID-19 than those who have had their injections, and are 11 times more likely to die compared to those who have been vaccinated.
In Wisconsin, 56.1 percent of the eligible population has been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, DHS reports. And more than 87,000 children ages 5-11 have had their first shot since early November, Timberlake said, when federal regulators approved Pfizer’s vaccine for that age group.