Wisconsin Department of Health Services issues public health advisory pleading people to take precautions with omicron variant

Health officials expect COVID-19 cases to surge with omicron variant

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Steve Grove, a chaplain at Hennepin County Medical Center, prays in a COVID-19 patient's room
Steve Grove, a chaplain at Hennepin County Medical Center, prays in a COVID-19 patient’s room, Dec. 10, 2021, in Minneapolis. Charlie Neibergall/AP Photo

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services has issued a public health advisory asking Wisconsinites to take COVID-19 seriously and do their part to slow the spread of the virus.

The call for help comes as more cases with the new omicron variant are detected in the state, which could further stress hospitals.

DHS issued the health advisory because the new strain of COVID-19 is highly contagious. Coupled with delta, state and local officials say there could be a rapid increase in disease activity in the coming weeks.

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On Monday, Dane County extended a local indoor mask mandate until Feb. 1. The same day, the Wisconsin Supreme Court agreed to hear a legal challenge to that mask order by the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty.

Some hospital systems hit hard by COVID-19 — and an increase in patients needing other care — are delaying nonurgent surgeries, including Aspirus and Marshfield Clinic, where chief medical officer Dr. William Melms said more than 100 patients had to seek care elsewhere.

“Space is tight in our facilities, but mostly we just don’t have the staff to care for everyone who needs our help,” Melms said during a briefing with state health officials Monday.

“And while I respect that vaccination is a personal choice, it is important that everyone understands that our health care organizations have been pushed to the breaking point, and it is quite possible that omicron will push us beyond the breaking point,” Melms continued.

State data indicate nearly 96 percent of intensive care unit beds in Wisconsin are in use.

Of recently sequenced cases in Wisconsin, 40 percent are the omicron variant. State officials have detected 19 omicron cases, up from only five last week when Dane County announced three cases.

Health officials across the United States and Wisconsin are urging people to get the COVID-19 vaccine and a booster, if they are eligible. They are also asking people to take proven mitigation efforts, such as wearing a mask, getting tested before celebrating the holidays with people outside your home, keeping gatherings small, staying home if you feel sick, and getting tested if you have COVID-19 symptoms — regardless of vaccination status.

“To prevent the spread of disease and protect yourself and loved ones this holiday season, we urge Wisconsinites to plan ahead,” DHS Secretary Karen Timberlake said in the release. “Keep holiday gatherings small, stay home if you have been exposed or are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, and get tested before spending time with people you do not live with.”

To get tested, reach out to local health departments, community testing sites, pharmacies and health care providers. At-home COVID-19 tests can also be used. DHS mails free at-home collection kits.

To find a COVID-19 vaccine, visit vaccines.gov or call 877-947-2211.

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