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While omicron is milder, record cases push Wisconsin hospital ICU admissions to new high

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Coming out of a holiday season rattled by the highly contagious omicron variant, Wisconsin reported Wednesday a record number of new daily coronavirus cases — eclipsing a day-old high by 25% — while COVID-19 patients are filling intensive care unit beds at historic levels.

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services reported 10,288 new confirmed cases Wednesday, sending the statewide seven-day average to 6,260. The large number of new infections breaks the previous record of 8,232 new cases reported on Tuesday.

It has moved the state closer to the record seven-day average of 6,498 cases set in November 2020 before vaccines against the coronavirus were available.

Hospitals are continuing to get hit with severe cases of COVID-19.

On Wednesday, the Wisconsin Hospital Association reported 464 people infected with the virus were in the ICU, which passed a previous high mark of 462 ICU patients set on Monday. Just over 2,000 people were in the hospital because of the coronavirus on Wednesday, the hospital association reported. The figure remains below the all-time high of 2,277 hospitalizations on Nov. 17, 2020.

While early data suggest omicron causes less severe illness than previous variants, the sheer volume of infections is driving up hospitalizations.

As cases and hospitalizations rise, DHS said Wednesday it received an “extremely limited” initial allotment of two antiviral pills intended to treat people with mild to moderate COVID-19 who are at risk of developing severe illness.

The at-home pills — Pfizer’s Paxlovid and Merck’s molnupiravir — need to be prescribed and are expected to arrive at a select number of pharmacies by Friday, DHS said in a statement. The state’s first allotment contains 940 and 4,320 courses of each drug, respectively.

DHS Secretary-designee Karen Timberlake said the demand for the antiviral pills, which received emergency use authorizations from the Food and Drug Administration, is expected to be high. Health care providers may need to prioritize who gets the first of the limited supply, she said.

“While these new antiviral pills may help treat COVID-19, it’s important to remember these drugs are not a substitution for protecting yourself by getting vaccinated and wearing a mask in public places,” she said in the statement.

The pills need to be taken within five days of the onset of symptoms and are restricted based on age or whether the patient has certain medications, is pregnant or breastfeeding.


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