The state is opening two voluntary isolation centers in Milwaukee and Madison for people infected with the new coronavirus who have nowhere to go. This includes the homeless and those living in group homes who may become infected with the disease. The move is also designed to free up hospital beds for others who have more serious symptoms.
“Our goal in this pandemic is to keep the number of people who need a hospital bed lower than the number of hospital beds available. These isolation sites are a critical component to that,” said state Department of Health Services Deputy Secretary Julie Willems Van Dijk during a call with reporters Tuesday.
The isolation centers will be run by the State Emergency Operations Center. One center is at Lowell Hall on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus. The other is a Super 8 hotel in Milwaukee near the airport.
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The facilities are for symptomatic individuals suspected to be infected with COVID-19 or who have a confirmed case of COVID-19. Individuals will not be permitted to register at the facility unless referred by a medical provider or public health official, according to a statement put out by Gov. Tony Evers’ office. Those allowed to stay include people from the community or discharged patients.
“It is up to the individual for them to elect to come into these facilities. We do not have a way to force them in. Its absolutely voluntary,” said Van Dijk who added that other communities are considering whether to set up their own isolation sites.
The isolation centers in Madison and Milwaukee will have security through private firms. There won’t be medical staff on site — it will be self-care — but food will be provided. Van Dijk said Wisconsin National Guard soldiers will help staff the facility but will not provide security.
Officials have been working on an isolation plan since a public health emergency was declared by Evers and the State Emergency Operations Center was activated, Van Dijk said.
The voluntary isolation facilities will open Wednesday, April 1 as the state prepares for a possible surge of COVID-19 cases. It’s not known exactly when that could come and Van Dijk said they have not heard of any hospitals that have reached capacity yet.
Predictions by the University of Washington Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation indicate that while Wisconsin might have enough hospital beds overall, it could be short 400 intensive care beds. The institute also predicts the state will need 450 ventilators on the day the pandemic hits its peak which it estimates could come April 26.
State health officials have been trying to delay a surge in COVID-19 cases needing hospitalization with a stay-at-home order and closing of non-essential businesses.
The Milwaukee isolation facility has space for 110 people at the Super 8 on South Howell Avenue. The Lowell Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison has room for 137.
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