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Saturday, September 18, 2021

New COVID-19 cases dipped in recent days, but health care workers explain that a post-Thanksgiving surge may still be coming. 

Army medical personnel deployed to Wisconsin as hospitals prepare for post-holiday strain

Gov. Tony Evers announced Wednesday that the U.S. Department of Defense deployed U.S. Army medical personnel to address staffing shortages at Marshfield Medical Center facilities throughout the state. This announcement came after a slight increase in cases this past week.

The 45 medical personnel will support operations at the system's facilities in Marshfield, Eau Claire, Beaver Dam and Rice Lake. 

“Wisconsin’s healthcare system is strained, and our frontline healthcare workers are doing amazing work under extraordinary circumstances,” Evers said in a press release.

Wisconsin’s seven-day average of new confirmed COVID-19 cases saw a spike in recent days, following a decline in late November. Some testing sites closed over the Thanksgiving holiday, but health officials have warned of a post-holiday spike. 

“It’s a little bit too early to call it a trend, there’s not enough data points there yet, but it looks like the percent positive cases are starting to rise just a bit,” said Dr. Jeffrey Pothof, UW Health’s Chief Quality Officer. “That’s a little bit worrisome because that could indicate some Thanksgiving holiday contributions to COVID-19.”

As of Wednesday afternoon, about 16 percent of staffed hospital beds were available in the state, and 21 percent of patients were in the ICU. Pothof said UW Health is still caring for many COVID patients.

“I think today we’re only one patient below our all-time record high. So even if you look at the state as a whole and we’re seeing drops in hospitalizations, here at UW Health we’re still struggling with very high volumes of COVID-19 patients,” Pothof said Tuesday.

Mitch Osterhaus, a UW-Madison nursing student who works clinical rotations at UW Health, said if Wisconsin’s outbreaks become worse during the winter, it will affect hospitals significantly. 

“I can’t comment exactly on how Madison hospitals are faring or how they will react to potential spread in the coming months, but broadly increased viral spread may cause delays in elective procedures and put a strain on available beds and health care professionals,” Osterhaus explained. 

Despite additional hospital staffing assistance, the state may need more effective mitigation efforts to curb new cases. Public health policies are often advised by Gov. Evers, but different counties get to decide how and whether they are actually going to follow these policy recommendations.

“The county strategy makes sense from a policy perspective because they have their own local governments and things like that; the virus on the other hand really doesn’t care at all that there are county lines drawn,” Pothof said. “Countries that have employed those strategies as a country, or as a large geographical area, have shown greater success in controlling the spread of the virus than those areas that have tried to do local enforcement or local policies to control the virus.”

Without a more unified state plan, “The vaccine is really our best shot at getting this under control at this point if we don’t feel confident that we’re going to get a large enough proportion of the population to do the things that we know would be effective in lieu of vaccine: i.e. socially distancing, masking, hand washing and avoiding large gatherings,” Pothof said.

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As a vaccine does make its way to Wisconsin, the management of the pandemic is still dependent on the actions of individuals. Pothof explained that if there are delays in production or distribution of the vaccine or if a large proportion of the population refuses to get vaccinated, the state will have to fall back on the same mitigation tactics it has used since the beginning of the pandemic.

“It frustrates me to see people willingly disregard public health guidelines, especially for matters such as going to bars and parties here on campus,” Osterhaus said. “The actions of students here on campus have the power to affect the health of the Madison community as a whole and as I see people continue to gather and go to parties, it’s tough not to be personally frustrated as a member of a healthcare team.”

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Emma Grenzebach

state news writer


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