On its first day of operation, an overflow facility for recovering COVID-19 patients in Wisconsin had no patients.
But with all 72 counties in Wisconsin having "high" or "very high" levels of COVID-19 activity, according to the state Department of Health Services, and hospitalizations rapidly rising, officials say the trajectory of evidence indicates it's likely a matter of when, not if, the Wisconsin State Fair Park Alternative Care Facility will be needed.
"This is clearly another wave of the pandemic. The pandemic did not give us a crystal ball to tell us how many waves there will be. I think this experience has shown us we need to be prepared," said Deputy Secretary Julie Willems Van Dijk with the Wisconsin DHS during a media briefing Wednesday.
On Wednesday, the state once again broke previous levels for the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients and those requiring intensive care. The number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients rose to 1,017 from 959 the day before. This includes 246 in intensive care units.
Hospitals requested that the state open up the alternate care facility, Van Dijk said, which was initially mothballed after it was built in the spring because positive cases declined as the state and individuals took precautions to limit spread of the virus.
Sign up for daily news!
Stay informed with WPR's email newsletter.
The facility’s location was determined by where the disease was worst in the state. At the time, southeastern Wisconsin was seeing a surge in COVID-19 cases.
A second overflow facility for COVID-19 patients was also planned in Dane County but was put on hold. Officials say they want to maximize use of the West Allis facility before opening additional treatment centers.
The facility located on the grounds of State Fair Park is meant for hospitalized patients recovering from COVID-19 who need a lower level of care before they are able to go home.
Patients will be transferred to the new facility by ground ambulance. There will be no charge for care or transportation. Costs will be covered under funding from the federal CARES Act, a coronavirus relief bill passed by Congress.
Deb Standridge, CEO of the Alternative Care Facility in West Allis, said doctors from all over the U.S. will work at the facility along with nurses, respiratory therapists and pharmacists from other states.