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Hospital beds full in Marshfield, Wausau

Hospital beds full in  Marshfield, Wausau Hospital beds full in  Marshfield, Wausau

COVID-19 surge in November has overwhelmed providers

A spokesman for the Marathon County Health Department on Thursday said hospital beds across the state, including in central Wisconsin, are full due to a late fall surge in COVID-19 cases.

Aaron Ruff, department public information officer, said both hospital Intensive Care Units (ICUs) and other hospital departments are near maximum capacity, affecting care for both coronavirus patients and all others with serious illnesses.

“The care for patients of any kind is affected, whether they are in a car accident, have diabetes or suffer a heart attack,” he said. “We have ICUs at 96 percent capacity statewide. Other hospital beds are at 99 percent capacity.” Ruff said hospitals lack both physical beds to place patients, but also staff to care for the extraordinary number of patients showing up for care.

“It’s both,” he said. “It’s a combination of not having brick and mortar space, but also health care workers. With burnout, staffing is an issue.”

As of Friday, the health department reported Marathon County was seeing 106 new COVID- 19 cases each day with 37 people being hospitalized for the disease each week. Thirtyseven people died from COVID- 19 in the county between Oct. 16 and Nov. 16.

Ruff said the current surge seems to be repeating this area’s experience last winter when cases peaked in December.

“Our hospitalizations are not as high as last year, but we are seeing parallels from what we experienced last October, November and December,” he said. “People will get sick and die. We have seen this before.”

Ruff said the seasonal spike in COVID-19 cases comes when barely half of county residents, 69,605, are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

He said state and local hospitals were largely being filled up by people who are not vaccinated.

“The vast majority of hospitalized individuals are not fully vaccinated,” he said. “They are the main driver.”

Ruff said unvaccinated people in Marathon County were 16 times more likely to get COVID- 19 and 18 times more likely to be hospitalized.

The spokesman repeated Department of Health Services recommendations that people get vaccinated and that people, especially those over age 65, get booster shots.

Ruff said the “good news” is that health care providers are becoming more skilled in treating COVID-19, using monoclodal antibodies, but, on the other hand, the coronavirus is becoming a more serious threat to people who are not old or have compromised immune systems.

“We are seeing hospitalizations of people in their thirties, forties or fifties,” he said.

Spokesmen for both Aspirus Health and Marshfield Clinic Health System on Thursday confirmed that their hospitals were at capacity trying to take care of COVID-19 patients.

“It’s extremely important that the public is aware that COVID-19 is surging across Wisconsin and many Wisconsin hospitals, including the hospitals in our health system are either at or near capacity,” said John Gardner, Marshfield Clinic director of communications. “The Marshfield Health System has more than 90 COVID-19 patients occupying a hospital bed, and ICUs have exceeded or are near capacity, as is our COVID- 19 unit in Marshfield.”

Gardner said Marshfield Clinic is transporting patients to different care centers within its system to meet the needs of patients.

“We’re leveraging all of the hospital beds in the system as much as we can,” he said. “ With demand exceeding capacity, there could be a delay in transferring Emergency Department patients out of the ED to a nursing unit. Despite this, we have not transferred patients to hospitals outside of our health system unless they need specialized care not available at one of our hospitals. I will also say we get requests daily from other health systems wanting to transfer their patients to us due to them exceeding their capacity.”

At Aspirus, Andrew Kraus said hospital beds are now at a premium. “COVID-19 ICU bed capacity is tight and we adapt as needed,” he said.

Kraus said local residents can help this problem by getting vaccinated. He reported Aspirus had 106 patients hospitalized for COVID-19 throughout its system on Nov. 17. Of these, 76 percent were not fully vaccinated and 29 required ICU-level care.

Dr. Susan Schneider, Aspirus system senior physician executive of primary care, said people need to better understand how COVID-19 was causing a local health care crisis.

“I really think there’s a disconnect with what’s happening in the perception out in the community versus what’s happening within our health system as well as actually the rest of the health systems across the state,” she said. “This pandemic has been going on for a long time and people are tired of it and really want to get back to normal life, but that’s not really what we’re seeing in the health care system.”