Dane County Surpasses April Pandemic Peak For COVID-19 Hospitalizations

Other Hard-Hit Areas In Northeastern Part Of State Transferring Patients

A nurse pulls a ventilator into an exam room where a patient with COVID-19 went into cardiac arrest
A nurse pulls a ventilator into an exam room where a patient with COVID-19 went into cardiac arrest April 20, at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Yonkers, N.Y. John Minchillo/AP

As Wisconsin breaks records for COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths, hospitals are transferring patients, restricting visitors and preparing for what could soon be a tipping point in the pandemic.

Even south central Wisconsin, where hospitalizations generally have been flat, is seeing a rise in COVID-19 patients. Dane County had 47 patients hospitalized as of Sunday. That is the highest number since April 9 when there were 46.

Hospitalizations have been rising since Thursday, when there were 34 people hospitalized.

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“And that is new for us; Madison had been relatively stable from a number’s standpoint, but those hospitalizations really just over the weekend have increased,” said Dr. Aimee Becker, UW Health Chief Medical Officer.

The sudden uptick in coronavirus cases prompted UW Hospital to tell staff there was a “critical shortage” of ICU beds. But Becker took issue with that phrasing, because the need can be met by shifting resources.

“I wouldn’t describe it as a critical shortage,” Becker said. “We are tight on ICU beds, and that is something we have the flexibility to accommodate and deal with from a planning standpoint. That applies to our intermediate as well as our general care beds.”

The hardest hit areas are in the central, northern and northeast part of the state. Recently Marshfield Clinic Health System, Aspirus, and Ascension hospitals released a joint statement urging people to wear masks, socially distance, wash their hands and get a flu shot in hopes to of turning the trend around.

Health officials in the Fox Valley area have declared public health emergencies because of the dramatic increase in cases there.

“Now is not the time for any of us to become complacent. We are far from being clear of danger,” said the statement released Friday by the three health systems.

ThedaCare and Aspirus have restricted visitors in an effort to keep patients and staff safe as COVID-19 cases increase.

Aspirus, which has 10 hospitals, is preparing to scale up its surge plan because it’s getting close to the maximum number of COVID-19 beds it currently has, Matt Heywood, Aspirus president and CEO, said during a press conference Monday.

Waitlists and transfers were taking longer, Heywood said, because hospitals in northeast Wisconsin are also caring for more COVID-19 patients at a time when there are shortages of staff due to illness.

Additionally, Aspirus is seeing what Heywood described as a “significant” number of patients requiring ventilators. But he stressed it’s not like March and April when there was concern over supply, partly because doctors have learned other treatments that help a patient breath such as putting them on their stomach.

Officials with the Wisconsin Hospital Association urged everyone in the state to take precautions against the quickly spreading virus “very, very seriously.”

Wisconsin Hospital Association President and CEO Eric Borgerding said hospitals at or approaching peak capacity are implementing contingency plans developed early in the COVID-19 outbreak to make sure there is access to needed care.

“Hospitals will not be able to infinitely expand beds and staff those beds without the utmost resource support and regulatory relief from state and federal government to preserve access to care during this pandemic,” he said in a statement.

The statewide supply of ventilators is over 2,300. According to state health data, 382 were in use as of Monday afternoon.

Sunday, the state had a record 714 COVID-19 patients in hospitals; 194 were in the ICU.

On Sept. 30, Wisconsin reported 27 deaths in one day, the most reported since the pandemic began.