Concern over the impact the new coronavirus pandemic could have on Wisconsin’s health care system has prompted a number of changes at hospitals and clinics to preserve doctors, beds and other resources for those who need it most.
At Madison’s three hospitals, elective surgeries and some procedures are being canceled. SSM Health, UW Health and UnityPoint Health-Meriter announced Tuesday they are beginning to postpone non-life threatening, non-urgent surgeries and procedures.
In Milwaukee, Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin announced Monday it was suspending all non-time sensitive surgeries and clinic appointments.
The state’s largest health system, Aurora Health, is also limiting surgeries and clinic appointments in the wake of the pandemic.
In addition, Aurora has adopted a no visitor policy with some exceptions for women giving birth and end of life situations. Hospitals around the state have also cut back on visitation, and dental offices are urging sick patients to reschedule as federal health officials urge people to practice social distancing to prevent further spread of COVID-19.
"It’s important for everyone to understand that if we have a significant surge in the need for hospitalization of patients with COVID-19 like what happened in Hubei province in China, like what is happening in Italy, France and Seattle our capacity is going to be vastly exceeded," Dr. John Raymond, Medical College of Wisconsin CEO and president said during a telephone interview Tuesday.
He said if only 1 percent of Wisconsin’s 6 million people require hospitalization, 60,000 beds would be required. On any given day, he said the state has about 3,000 to 4,000 beds open.
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State Department of Health Services Secretary Andrea Palm said in a teleconference Tuesday that officials are working with hospitals to possibly convert existing space or find other locations if there is a surge in COVID-19 cases.
A day after state health officials said its likely the disease caused by the new coronavirus is spreading in the community, Dane County confirmed it had identified cases of COVID-19 that weren’t linked to travel or close contact with an infected person.
Seventeen people have tested positive for the disease in Dane County; none are hospitalized.
"We expect the number of people with COVID-19 to continue to rise in Dane County. This is why we issued our order to limit gatherings to under 50 people, including closing schools. It’s possible these orders will need to be amended to be more restrictive as the situation evolves," said Janel Heinrich, Director of Public Health Madison & Dane County.
State health officials said Tuesday that two other counties, Kenosha and Milwaukee also have community spread as they announced new restrictions statewide on limiting groups of people to 10 or fewer people.
Officials also narrowed guidelines for who should get tested for COVID-19 to preserve a limited supply of tests now available. Doctors should only test those who have significant respiratory symptoms so that people in hospitals and nursing homes can be tested.