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'Heroes need our help': COVID-19 hospitalizations in Dane County break record again
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'Heroes need our help': COVID-19 hospitalizations in Dane County break record again

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UW nurses

Staff members in UW Hospital's COVID-19 unit care for patients in November 2020.

A record 197 patients with COVID-19 are hospitalized in Dane County, officials said Tuesday, as they urged the public to get booster shots, wear masks and stay home if ill to curb spread of the highly transmissible omicron variant and ease the strain on health care workers.

The hospital in Medford, like others, is feeling the strain, with no end in sight.

“Our health care heroes need our help, not just in words but in our actions,” said Dane County Executive Joe Parisi, who noted the county expects by Friday to get 100,000 more face masks to distribute to people who need them.

“With our hospitals at capacity, we each have to do our part to keep ourselves safe and to keep ourselves out of the hospital,” said Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway, who encouraged people to get vaccinated at newly restarted mobile clinics or at regular sites.

The 197 COVID-19 hospitalizations eclipsed the previous record of 184 on Monday, which was up from an earlier peak of 179 on Nov. 18, 2020, before vaccinations became available. Forty-one of the 197 patients were in intensive care, down from the county’s pandemic peak of 49 in November 2020.

Public Health Madison and Dane County on Tuesday also reported a daily record of 2,127 new COVID-19 cases in Dane County, for a daily average of 1,575 cases — levels that as recently as September were typical statewide totals. Some 15.5% of county residents have tested positive throughout the pandemic, including 3.1% in just the past two weeks, health department director Janel Heinrich said.

“This surge that we’re in is a perfect storm, likely brought on by a combination of holiday travel and gatherings just as this very highly transmissible omicron variant began to spread,” Heinrich said.

She urged testing, which is again happening at the Alliant Energy Center, where 750 testing appointments are available each weekday, with plans to expand to 1,000 daily next week.

State numbers

Statewide, 12,305 new cases of COVID-19 were reported Tuesday, for a record daily average of 9,696. As of Tuesday, 2,244 patients were in hospitals with COVID-19 statewide, down from 2,259 on Monday but still near the record of 2,277 on Nov. 16, 2020, according to the Wisconsin Hospital Association.

Among the 2,244 patients, a record 486 were in intensive care.

Dane County has the state’s highest rate of vaccinations against COVID-19, as 81.2% of residents have received at least one dose and 76.4% are fully vaccinated. As of last week, nearly 60% of fully vaccinated county residents had received a booster or additional dose.

Some of the patients hospitalized in the county with COVID-19 are from other counties and not all are in the hospital primarily because of COVID-19, as has been the case throughout the pandemic with reported hospitalizations. In addition, omicron is causing numerous breakthrough infections among vaccinated people nationwide.

Heinrich said the city-county health department couldn’t say how many of the 197 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 were vaccinated or from the county.

Of about 65 COVID-19 patients Tuesday at SSM Health St. Mary’s Hospital in Madison, most were unvaccinated and from Dane County, spokesperson Kim Sveum said. Of about 60 at UnityPoint Health-Meriter, most were from the county and 10 were in intensive care, all of whom were unvaccinated, spokesperson Nicole Aimone said. UW Hospital has had 65 to 80 COVID-19 patients the past two weeks, about 15% of total volume, spokesperson Emily Kumlien said.

The hospital spokespersons declined to provide additional details about the residential and vaccination status of their patients with COVID-19.

Heinrich said that even for patients who aren’t in the hospital primarily because of COVID-19, health care workers must wear additional protective equipment and take other steps when caring for them, which adds to the strain.

Vaccine impacts

Despite breakthrough cases from omicron, vaccinations — especially booster shots — are protecting against infection, health officials say.

In late December, when the omicron variant became widespread, the age-adjusted rate of new COVID-19 cases in the county was 1.9 times higher among residents not fully vaccinated than those fully vaccinated, Public Health Madison and Dane County said last week. The rate was 4.3 times higher among the unvaccinated than those who had received booster or additional doses, the health department said.

People vaccinated with the initial series only were 2.3 times more likely to test positive than people who received a booster or additional dose, the department said.

In November statewide, people not fully vaccinated were 5 times more likely to get COVID-19, 11 times more likely to be hospitalized for it and 12 times more likely to die from it than those fully vaccinated, according to the state Department of Health Services.

“Our health care heroes need our help, not just in words but in our actions."

Joe Parisi, Dane County executive

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