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COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations up, but overflow facility still not used as of Tuesday

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UnityPoint Health-Meriter

UnityPoint Health-Meriter in Madison.

Despite continued record levels of COVID-19 patients hospitalized in Wisconsin, no hospital as of Tuesday afternoon had sent a patient to an alternate care facility that opened in West Allis last Wednesday to help hospitals ease the crunch.

“We want to make sure (the alternate care facility) is there should our hospitals need it,” state Department of Health Services Secretary Andrea Palm said Tuesday, when a record 1,192 patients with the coronavirus were in hospitals, up from 407 a month ago.

Eric Borgerding, CEO of the Wisconsin Hospital Association, said many hospitals are sharing beds and staff within health systems or regions to avoid sending patients far away. The backlog of COVID-19 patients in hospitals includes many waiting to return to nursing homes, which sometimes can’t take them, he said.

“It’s not a unilateral decision; patients and families want to stay close to home,” Borgerding said. “A notable amount of the capacity right now in hospitals is being taken up by patients that really are ready to be discharged back to a (nursing home).”

The state reported a record 4,591 new cases of COVID-19 Tuesday, but the count includes some cases that accumulated during a computer upgrade over the weekend, Palm said. The daily average of new cases is now 3,287, up from 1,720 a month ago.

Another 33 people have died from the coronavirus, the state said Tuesday, near the record of 34 deaths reported Oct. 13, with October seeing the state’s largest surge in deaths from the pandemic.

“Public health capacity … is beyond strained,” said Dr. Ryan Westergaard, a medical officer with the state health department, saying there aren’t enough contact tracers to interview people who test positive and notify contacts who may have been exposed.

A new app instructs those who test positive to notify contacts themselves. “You can’t count on us to tell you,” Westergaard said.

Palm and Gov. Tony Evers again urged state residents to wear masks, stay home when possible and avoid gatherings — including parties people normally might have to watch the Wisconsin Badgers’ first football game of the season Friday night.

“They should be thinking about watching the game at home alone or with the people that are living in their residence,” Evers said.

Palm also urged people to limit Thanksgiving dinners to just those in their households.

Though adherence to mask wearing and staying away from groups may be uneven, Palm noted one measure more people are following: Nearly 280,000 more people in the state have received flu shots this year compared with last year, she said.

Dane County had a record 84 COVID-19 patients hospitalized as of Monday, after decreases last week. Spokeswomen for Madison’s three main hospitals said last week they had rescheduled some procedures to maintain adequate capacity and didn’t plan to immediately send patients to the alternate care facility.

Borgerding, when asked Tuesday if hospitals need the facility at State Fair Park, said, “It’s not a black-and-white question,” adding “we’re glad it’s there.”

He said revenue from hospitalizations had nothing to do with not sending patients to the overflow facility, calling the idea “borderline absurd especially when we know some hospitals are having to pull back, postpone and reschedule other types of surgeries and procedures as needed to make sure they have capacity for COVID and other severely ill non-COVID patients.”

Palm said hospitals requested the facility. “The urgent call we heard from them in anticipation of opening the alternate care facility was that they needed us to open it,” she said.

Molly Vidal, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Administration, which oversees the facility, didn’t respond to questions seeking comment.


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