Wisconsin To Open Care Facility For COVID-19 Patients On State Fairgrounds

State Reported 2,319 New Cases And 16 Deaths On Wednesday

Signage during COVID-19 outbreak
dmbosstone (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Wisconsin will open a care facility at the state fairgrounds near Milwaukee next Wednesday to treat COVID-19 patients, particularly those transitioning from hospital to home care, Gov. Tony Evers announced Wednesday.

Initial steps to set up the facility began in April, but were put on hold as Wisconsin was able to keep new cases low during the spring and early summer.

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“We obviously hoped this day wouldn’t come,” Evers said in a Wednesday briefing, “but unfortunately Wisconsin is in a much different and more dire place today, and our health care systems are being overwhelmed.”

The facility is not a full-fledged hospital, but is intended to treat patients who are on the road to recovery, said state Department of Health Services Secretary Andrea Palm. She said it’s intended to allow hospitals to focus on patients who need a higher level of care. It will open with the ability to take as many as 50 patients, said Palm, and will scale up from there to an expected capacity of 530 patients.

Deb Standridge, CEO of the Wisconsin State Fair Park Alternative Care Facility, described the likely patients who will be placed there as those between 18 and 70 years old, who have been in the hospital between 24 and 48 hours, and who are relatively healthy and able to walk on their own or with the help of just one other person. The patients there would still be in need of care, like more oxygen, IV treatments or other medications, before they’re healthy enough to be discharged.

New reports of COVID-19 cases have been holding steady in Wisconsin, based on the latest data published by DHS. DHS reported 2,319 new cases of the disease Wednesday, bringing the average for the past seven days to 2,346 daily cases. One week ago, the average was 2,334 daily cases.

There were 16 new deaths from COVID-19 reported Wednesday. On Wednesday, 11,188 people tested negative for the first time.

16.9 percent of people who got tested for COVID-19 over the past week were positive for the disease, according to DHS. That rate has been holding steady around 17 percent.

The positivity rate is often read by public health officials as a measure of overall testing levels. A high rate could indicate that testing in the state is limited, and skewed toward those already flagged as potentially having COVID-19. A lower rate could indicate testing is more widespread. Changes in the test positivity rate can also speak to COVID-19’s spread, if the size and makeup of the testing pool stays consistent.

On Sept. 30, DHS also introduced an alternative positivity rate, one that measures the percentage of tests that are positive, instead of the percentage of people who get a positive result. The new metric takes into account people who have been tested multiple times. The seven-day average for that number is at 9 percent.

According to DHS, there were 853 COVID-19 patients hospitalized as of Tuesday, with 216 in the ICU — both figures a record for the state. A total of 7,951 people have been hospitalized because of the disease, or 6 percent of all positive cases. Palm said Wisconsin has seen a 26 percent increase in hospitalizations since last week, with a 54 percent increase in the south central region of the state.

The latest figures bring the overall total of positive cases in Wisconsin to 138,698, according to DHS. A total of 1,415 people in Wisconsin have died from COVID-19.

COVID-19 activity varies heavily from county to county. The latest activity data from DHS, released Wednesday, showed 55 counties had a “very high level” of COVID-19 activity, and the rest had a “high” level of activity. Wisconsin overall had a “very high” level of activity, according to DHS.

COVID-19 activity designations are based on the number of new cases per a county’s population over a 14-day period, as well as whether there’s an upward or downward trend in new cases.

The Fox Valley, Northeast and Southeast regions were at or over 90 percent capacity in their intensive care unit beds, according to Palm. She said every region of the state has hospitals reporting a current or imminent staffing shortage.

Wisconsin’s daily testing capacity — based on the availability of test supplies and adequate staffing — has grown from 120 available lab tests in early March to 39,234 as of Wednesday. The number of actual people with new test results reported Wednesday was 13,507, with a total of 22,916 tests done on Tuesday.

A total of 1,632,002 people have been tested over the course of the pandemic. Of those, 1,493,304 have tested negative.