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Madison hospitals restrict visitors due to recent surge of COVID-19 cases in Dane County
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Madison hospitals restrict visitors due to recent surge of COVID-19 cases in Dane County

UW-Health COVID-19

Dr. Jeff Pothof, UW Health’s chief quality officer, on Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2020 becomes the first person at UW Hospital to get an injection in a phase 3 trial of AstraZeneca’s experimental COVID-19 vaccine. Nurse Sara Decker administers the shot. 

Visitor restrictions at Madison hospitals will go into effect Tuesday in an effort to curb community spread of COVID-19 following a significant increase in confirmed cases in Dane County, said UW Health, SSM Health and UnityPoint Health ‒ Meriter Friday.

No visitors will be allowed for adult inpatients, except for health care decision-makers, support persons for those with disabilities and visitors for end-of-life patients.

The restrictions extend to visitors for clinic appointments, except for one support person to accompany a cognitively disabled or physically impaired patient.

“Our objective is to get visitors in as soon as we can,” said Dr. Jeff Pothof, chief quality officer at UW Health. “With the increase in cases in Dane County, we’re starting to get worried about visitors coming in who may be positive.”

Pothof said staff at UW Health are worried about asymptomatic COVID-19 carriers who could unknowingly pass the virus on to a patient or staff member while visiting.

“At the present moment it’s in the best interest to limit the number (of visitors) to decrease the risk to patients and staff,” he said.

Two primary support persons per patient will be allowed in pediatric settings at American Family Children’s Hospital, UnityPoint Health – Meriter locations and SSM Health St. Mary’s Hospital. Patients’ siblings are not allowed, however.

One support person also will be allowed for maternity patients at UnityPoint Health – Meriter, and one support person for maternity patients during and after delivery at UnityPoint Health – Meriter and SSM Health St. Mary’s Hospital – Madison.

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This is the second time UW Health has restricted hospital visitors due to the COVID-19 pandemic. On March 21, UW Health restricted visitors in an effort to curb community spread of the virus. The restriction lasted until May 5, when the health system revised its protocol to allow one visitor per patient.

The decision to allow one visitor per patient per 24-hour period in May came after the health system began to see a decrease in new cases per day and it was able to establish screening methods, such as temperature checks at building entrances, as well as masking and social distancing guidelines.

Pothof said it’s hard to say how long this round of restrictions will last, but the decision to lift them will come after the number of positive cases per day decreases and staff as well as patients feel comfortable with welcoming visitors back into the facilities.

As of Friday, UW Health was not planning to cancel or postpone medical procedures due to the surge, spokeswoman Emily Kumlien said.

SSM Health is monitoring the number of COVID-19 cases and testing rates on a daily basis and will use that data to make decisions about the health and safety of patients, staff and the community, spokeswoman Kim Sveum said in a statement.

“As we have throughout this pandemic, we will work with our community healthcare partners to determine when it is appropriate to make changes to our visitor policies. We thank the community for their patience and understanding during this time,” she said.

The increase in COVID-19 cases has largely been attributed to college students who returned to the UW-Madison campus in recent weeks.

UW-Madison announced Wednesday it will move classes to an all-online format for two weeks and more than 2,200 students are being quarantined in two of the university’s largest residence halls in an effort to mitigate the spread of the virus. More than half of sorority and fraternity houses near the campus are also now under quarantine for at least two weeks.

COVID-19 in photos: How Wisconsin is managing the pandemic

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As the brunt of the virus has blown into the Upper Midwest and northern Plains, the severity of outbreaks in rural communities has come into focus. Doctors and health officials in small towns worry that infections may overwhelm communities with limited medical resources.

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