Dane County sees highest COVID-19 hospitalization rate since the beginning of the pandemic

Statewide, 2,244 patients hospitalized Tuesday with COVID-19

RN Sara Nystrom prepares to enter a patient's room in the COVID-19 Intensive Care Unit
Registered nurse Sara Nystrom, of Townshend, Vt., prepares to enter a patient’s room in the COVID-19 Intensive Care Unit at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, in Lebanon, N.H., Jan. 3, 2022. The omicron variant had caused a surge of new cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. and many hospitals were not only swamped with cases but severely shorthanded because of so many employees out with COVID-19. Steven Senne/AP Photo

Dane County, like much of the nation, is seeing an unprecedented spike in new COVID-19 infections and a rise in hospitalizations. On Tuesday, the local health department reported 197 people were in the hospital. Not all had COVID-19, but the increase in patients comes as staff are burned out and space is limited.

In the last two weeks, 3 percent of Dane County residents have tested positive for COVID-19 and Dane County is working to increase access to testing, officials said.

“This surge we’re in is a perfect storm, likely brought on by a combination of holiday travel and gatherings just as this highly transmissible omicron variant began to spread,” Public Health Madison & Dane County Director Janel Heinrich said.

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Milwaukee County had 771 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 as of Tuesday. And deaths from the disease — which often lag reports of positive cases — are starting to increase with the more transmissible omicron variant.

Dr. Ben Weston, Milwaukee County health policy advisor, said case rates could peak in Wisconsin in the next couple of weeks, but in the meantime, precautions need to be taken.

“The next couple of weeks are going to be critical” in maintaining an increasingly strained health care system, he said, adding that getting vaccinated and boosted, testing for the disease if you have symptoms, staying home if sick and wearing high quality masks in public spaces are ways to fight the disease.

Acting Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson said nearly all the 500,000 N95 masks received from the state of Wisconsin last Friday had been snapped up at libraries, and testing and vaccination sites. City officials are already working with the state to secure more masks, he said.

“Masks, though, cannot distract us from the most important thing we can do to fight COVID and that is vaccination,” Johnson stressed. “Our numbers are far too low and we need to get those numbers up.”

Statewide, 47 counties have critically high levels of COVID-19 spreading in the community and the Wisconsin Department of Health Services said Monday that the seven-day average of new infections rose 150 percent in two weeks. Hospitalizations statewide are near levels seen during last winter’s surge before there were vaccines. On Tuesday, the Wisconsin Hospital Association reported 2,244 patients with COVID-19 across the state. That is approaching a peak set on Nov. 17, 2020, when a record 2,277 COVID-19 patients were hospitalized.

With increasing cases of COVID-19 filling hospital beds and straining staffing across health care, Gov. Tony Evers announced that Wisconsin will increase the reimbursement rate for home and community-based services to those who are members of the state’s Medicaid programs.