The chief medical officer for the Wisconsin Hospital Association told the state's largest business group Wednesday that unless Wisconsin begins to slow the spread of COVID-19, more people will die, hospitals will be stressed, more businesses will fail and more schools and institutions will close down.
The WHA's Mark Kaufman also warned members of Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce that the pandemic was now so severe in Wisconsin that regardless of what happens over the next couple weeks, the situation would get worse before it gets better.
"If everybody in Wisconsin behaved perfectly over the next two weeks, those hospitalization numbers would get higher," Kaufman said. "It is going to be a rocky two or three months. We all need to, right now, buckle down."
Kaufman's warning followed a day when several key COVID-19 benchmarks hit levels previously unseen in Wisconsin during the pandemic.
On Tuesday, the seven-day averages for positive tests and positive test percentage both hit record highs, according to data from the state Department of Health Services. The number of people hospitalized and the number of people in intensive care for COVID-19 also hit new records, according to the WHA. The state also reported 17 new deaths, the highest single-day number since May.
Kaufman blamed a lack of individual and collective compliance with public health measures that are known to work to control the pandemic, specifically masking, physical distancing and hygiene. He said the return to in-person instruction at University of Wisconsin campuses around the state had also been a factor in sparking the increased cases.
Kaufman said that unless people take the pandemic more seriously, the consequences would be dire.
"There will be more patients and more Wisconsin citizens critically ill with COVID-19," Kaufman said. "More of us will die in Wisconsin from COVID-19."
"I believe that the economy will worsen as we all have to hunker down even further," he said. "There will be more business failures and more personal financial failures."
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While some school districts in Wisconsin have already shifted to an all-virtual format to start the year, Kaufman said others would soon be forced to follow.
"Closing of schools will become more common, and societal institutions and gatherings and things that are going on right now, such as potentially Big 10 football, will all be shut down," Kaufman said.
Kaufman said that already, Wisconsin hospitals were tightly managing admissions, creating extra bed space and matching patient needs to hospital resources.
"Many hospitals are approaching what we call peak capacity," Kaufman said.
Kaufman said it was within peoples' power to slow the spread of COVID-19.
"Masking works. Physical distancing works. Good personal hygiene works. This is basic science. It's not a political issue. It should not be a political issue," he said.
While some parts of the state are experiencing especially high numbers of COVID-19 cases, Kaufman stressed that numbers were up everywhere.
"No part of the state is untouched," he said. "The bottom line is we are doing very poorly compared to other states and to our previous performance."