COVID-19 hospitalizations prompt Madison hospitals to postpone procedures

Dane County to offer testing again at Alliant Energy Center; no drive-thru, walk-up only

Healthcare worker in a Covid-19 ward at UW Hospital
A healthcare worker in a PAPR hood walks through the hallway inside one of UW Hospital’s COVID-19 units Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2020. Angela Major/WPR

As new COVID-19 cases surge across the state, with a record number of cases three times this week, Dane County is expanding testing for the disease while Madison hospitals are postponing many surgeries and procedures, citing a lack of staff and an increasing number of COVID-19 patients.

The state reported its highest single day total for new infections during the entire pandemic on Thursday with 11,574 cases and 2,002 hospitalizations.

“Our hospital systems are really, really strained and we need to do all we can to prevent additional transmission. Because hospital workers need all the help they can get,” said Dr. Ryan Westergaard, chief medical officer for the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.

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Much of this is from the highly contagious omicron variant. SSM Health St. Mary’s, UnityPoint-Meriter and UW Health announced on Thursday many low-risk, non-emergent procedures would be delayed because of capacity. According to a joint statement from the Madison hospitals, there were 179 patients with COVID-19 as of Jan. 6. Additionally, employees are testing positive with COVID-19 at high rates and are unable to work.

“We are asking our community to help keep our health care workers safe and healthy by continuing to practice COVID-19 safety,” said Dr. Pam Wetzel, chief medical officer at UnityPoint Health-Meriter. “Continued spread of COVID-19 is preventable, we have the tools to stop the spread — masking, limiting gatherings and getting vaccinated and boosted.”

The surge has also pushed urgent care centers in the Milwaukee area to temporarily close due to staffing shortages. The closed Advocate Aurora clinics include:

  • 1575 N. Rivercenter Drive, Milwaukee
  • N84 W16889 Menomonee Ave., Menomonee Falls
  • 16985 W. Bluemound Rd., Brookfield

On Thursday, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported those closures would continue through Jan. 26.

State Department of Health Services Deputy Secretary Deb Standridge said Thursday that staffing continues to be a struggle for Wisconsin hospitals. Using funding from the federal American Rescue Plan Act, DHS has worked to recruit nearly 600 health care workers to support 72 health and residential care facilities, according to a press release.

“We are pursuing every available option to provide staffing support to our health systems and long term care providers to get through this surge,” Standridge said. “We are proud to be working with our health care partners to bring on this temporary support while COVID-19 cases in Wisconsin are surging at all-time highs. This support is essential to ensuring Wisconsinites have access to the care they need.”

Dane County announced Thursday it’s reopening the Alliant Energy Center for COVID-19 testing. Starting Jan. 10, people can walk up, not drive, to get tested. An appointment will be required.

“This addition will have a huge impact for folks who are anxious about getting a test right now,” Ken Van Horn, testing director for Public Health Madison & Dane County, said in a press release. “It will increase the total testing capacity in Dane County by 12.5% right away on week one, 25% on week two and 33% when weekends are added to the mix.”

Within the past two weeks, 2 percent of the entire county population has tested positive and new infections have risen 121 percent, according to the public health dashboard.

The Alliant Energy Center will conduct testing Monday through Friday from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Public Health Madison & Dane County will continue to perform testing at its other locations, including the South Madison clinic at 2230 S. Park Street.

In Milwaukee, three new community-based testing sites were also added, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

State health officials asked people to see their doctor or go to a community testing site instead of going to a hospital or urgent care center for testing. Locations where testing is offered around the state can be found here.