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Madison hospitals 'dangerously close' to breaking point amid COVID-19 omicron surge
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Madison hospitals 'dangerously close' to breaking point amid COVID-19 omicron surge

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UW Hospital

UW Hospital

With COVID-19 hospitalizations remaining high in Wisconsin and Dane County, and the easily spread omicron variant expected to increase cases amid holiday gatherings and travel, Madison hospitals say their facilities and staff are being pushed to the limit.

The crunch affects all kinds of patients, not just those with COVID-19, hospital leaders say. They urge the unvaccinated to get immunized and those who haven’t received boosters to get them.

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

“Our staff have been incredible, and they continue to provide the best care even in these difficult circumstances, but ultimately we are struggling to accommodate the volume of patients we’re seeing, and that volume is increasing,” Dr. Jeff Pothof, UW Hospital’s chief quality officer, said Tuesday in a statement.

“When hospitals are as full as ours is right now, access to doctors and a bed when you have a heart attack, a stroke or a car accident are a major concern,” Pothof said. “We’re dangerously close to the point where there just aren’t resources for all of those cases. You think it can’t happen to you, but it can if we continue to stay on this trajectory.”

UW Health said it is reducing the number of nonessential procedures it schedules and converting spaces to accommodate more COVID-19 patients.

Statewide, 1,672 patients were hospitalized with COVID-19 as of Tuesday, according to the Wisconsin Hospital Association. That’s down from a recent high of 1,714 on Dec. 13 but up from 1,520 on Sunday.

In Dane County, 111 patients were hospitalized with COVID-19, according to Public Health Madison and Dane County. That’s down from a recent high of 133 on Dec. 18 but considerably higher than a month ago. The totals include patients who live in Dane and other counties.

Wisconsin reported 5,758 new cases of COVID-19 Tuesday, for a daily average of 3,622. Health officials say the number could grow as the highly transmissible omicron variant has become the dominant strain in the United States amid holiday get-togethers. Early data suggest omicron may typically cause less severe illness in individuals than other strains, but the sheer number of expected cases could still result in more hospitalizations, especially among people who aren’t vaccinated, officials say.

Omicron accounted for an estimated 59% of coronavirus infections last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday, up from 22.5% the week before. The variant has spurred the daily average of new cases above 240,000 nationwide, double the level from two weeks ago.

Madison hospitals have placed ads in the Wisconsin State Journal highlighting the pandemic’s toll on health care workers.

“Our teams’ mental health and resiliency is being strained,” said a full page ad by UnityPoint Health-Meriter in Sunday’s newspaper. “They are frustrated and right now feel forgotten. Our healthcare team is also fighting misinformation and lack of trust in their expertise.”

In a full-page ad Sunday and in ads atop other day’s front pages, SSM Health says, “Our hearts are heavy and our hands are full.” The ads say the organization’s hospitals, including St. Mary’s Hospital in Madison, are crowded. They urge people to get vaccinated, including booster shots against COVID-19.

Meanwhile, Wisconsin reported 47 additional COVID-19 deaths Tuesday, for a daily average of 23 and a total since the pandemic began of 9,980.

In November, unvaccinated people were about five times more likely to get COVID-19, 11 times more likely to be hospitalized for it and 12 times more likely to die from the disease than those fully vaccinated, according to the state Department of Health Services.

Statewide, 61.8% of residents have received at least one dose of vaccine and 58% are fully vaccinated, though not necessarily with booster shots. Everyone age 5 and older is eligible for the vaccine, while boosters are available for everyone age 16 and older.

Fave 5: Reporter David Wahlberg picks his top stories of 2021

COVID-19 dominated my year again as the State Journal’s health reporter, except for June and July, when it seemed we might overcome it. Vaccinations and variants were new angles this year. I also covered continuing deaths from the pandemic and challenges for health care workers.

During the summer dip in coronavirus activity, I wrote about a little-known hereditary disorder tied to several cancers, for which Fitchburg-based Promega Corp. has developed related testing.

This fall, I spent much of my time working on a three-day series about newborn screening, focusing on how the testing varies among states. If you were born since the mid-1960s or had a child since then, you’ve almost certainly taken part in this screening, which looks for rare diseases for which prompt treatment can prevent death or disability.


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