As New COVID-19 Cases Rise, Wisconsin Health Care Leaders Sound The Alarm

High Levels Of Community Spread Puts Health Care Workers At Risk

A man in a face shield and mask hods up a phone to a driver's phone as he manages a line of cars
A worker wears a mask and face shield as he helps people prepare to be tested for COVID-19 on Friday, Sept. 25, 2020, at the Alliant Energy Center in Madison. Angela Major/WPR

Heath care leaders in Wisconsin are warning that if new cases of COVID-19 continue to climb, hospitals may become overwhelmed. They’re urging people to stay home, wear masks, and not gather with people outside their household.

UW Health director of infection control Dr. Nasia Safdar said the Madison area is “perilously close” to surpassing its highest hospitalization numbers, “and we don’t want to get back to that point.”

Safdar, who was joined at a press conference Friday by leaders from other Madison-area hospitals and Public Health Madison and Dane County, warned that unless the infection rate slows, the health care system may not be prepared.

Stay informed on the latest news

Sign up for WPR’s email newsletter.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

“We’re most effective when we are not scrambling for resources, when we are confident in our workforce, in our beds, in our staffing,” she said. “But there really isn’t a health system that can prepare for a widespread decimation of its workforce, because there’s COVID in the community and health care workers are getting it too.”

The number of people hospitalized from COVID-19 has grown by 47 percent in the past two weeks, according to data from the state Department of Health Services.

In a media briefing with Gov. Tony Evers on Thursday, ThedaCare president and CEO Dr. Imran Andrabi said 95 percent of his hospital beds were full. With a very high level of disease spread in the northeastern part of the state, he said many staff members have had to stay home from work.

“Sometimes it’s not just the number of beds that are available, it’s also the people that actually serve the people in that bed,” he said.

According to data from DHS, heath care workers have accounted for at least 7 percent of the state’s total COVID-19 cases since the start of the pandemic.

On Thursday, Evers issued an emergency order allowing more out-of-state health care providers to practice in Wisconsin, should the need arise.

Andrabi urged people to wear masks and stay home whenever possible.

Janel Heinrich, director of Public Health Madison and Dane County, said it’s clear that the virus is being spread at in-person gatherings.

“A quick search of the words in our contact tracing interviews of ‘Packers’ or ‘wedding’ in the notes indicate that we are creating opportunities,” she said. “We’re creating opportunities for COVID to spread.”

State health officials reported 2,745 new cases of COVID-19 in Wisconsin on Friday.