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County COVID-19 crisis

County COVID-19 crisis County COVID-19 crisis

Health care providers beg public to social distance, wear a mask

Representatives of central Wisconsin’s three major health care systems on Friday said in an internet forum that hospitals were overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients and that, looking to December, a crisis of care only promises to get worse. They said borderline patients needing hospital care are urged to stay home and patients, normally transported to critical care hospitals, are being kept in regional hospitals because of a lack of available beds. The health care spokesmen pleaded with the public to take standard precautions to limit the spread of COVID- 19, including wearing a mask, practicing social distancing of six feet and refraining from public gatherings, including Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday get-togethers.

Dr. Michael Clark, emergency department physician and medical director for Ascension Wisconsin Spirit medical transport, said all local hospitals were “operating on surge emergency planning” and that, with both nurses and doctors themselves contacting COVID- 19, “we are stretching staff and this continues to worsen.”

Clark said that it now takes between five to 25 calls to find a hospital willing to take a very sick patient and, within a month, he predicts that these slim vacancies will vanish. “We will be actively rationing care,” he said.

Ben Layman, regional chief administrative officer, Marshfield Clinic Health System Wausau/Marshfield Center, said 300 clinic staff, including nurses and respiratory therapists, are currently out due to COVID-19 illness and that elective surgery is being postponed.

He said the percentage of COVID-19 patients at Marshfield’s hospital in Weston has increased from three percent in August to 14 percent by October and 42 percent in November. Layman said this persistent increase was “unsustainable.” “Wisconsin has one of the best health care systems in the United States,” he said. “The system is in jeopardy today.” Layman said physicians and nurses come home from grueling shifts and “they break down in personal agony, many in tears” due to the emotional trauma of losing so many patients to COVID-19.

“It is like war every day going on for months,” he said. “And the impact is not lessening.”

Layman said health care workers are “disheartened” when they find themselves as the only people wearing masks in a grocery store or see parking lots filled outside of bars and restaurants.

The Marshfield Clinic spokesman said wearing a mask was “the single, best tool to slow this insidious disease.” He said that it is predicted that between 8,000 and 18,000 Wisconsin residents will die from COVID-19 by March 1, 2021, but, if 95 percent of state residents wore a mask, that death toll could be as low as 5,100.

Dr. Michael Walters, senior physician executive, Aspirus Health Care, said his health care system is currently seeing 130 COVID-19 patients and predicts “that number will only go up.”

He said patients unable to find a hospital bed locally are offered beds at distant hospitals, but some refuse the care, being unwilling to be located so far away from family. He said physicians worry about will happen to these patients.

Walters stressed the need for a change in community behavior in order to contain the coronavirus pandemic.

“We need the community’s help in this moment of crisis,” he said.

In other presentations during the forum, Marathon County Health Officer Joan Theurer said the county was “at a tipping point” in dealing with COVID- 19. She said her staff of 40, along with another 40 hired for work during the pandemic, were unable to keep up with the need to contact trace individuals with the disease.

“We can’t get assistance to everybody who is a case,” she said.

Theurer said people with COVID-19 need to quarantine for the full necessary time to prevent spreading the disease to others. “Don’t go to work even if you feel well,” she said.

The health officer said she “was at the point of pleading” to have people not to have large holiday gatherings, but, instead, to “stay with your own pod and the people you live with.”

Two district administrators, Dr. Kristine Gilmore, D.C. Everest School District, and Dr. Keith Hilts, Wausau School District, said it’s been a daily challenge to provide education while fighting COVID-10.

Hilts said his staff has been “running a marathon at a sprint pace” to meet the needs of students.

Gilmore said people should take steps to halt coronavirus spread and keep local public schools open. “This is not a political issue,” she said. “This is about Wausau, Weston, Edgar or wherever in Marathon County you call home.”

Speaking from a business perspective, Carrie Strobel, vice president human resources, Greenheck Fan Corporation, said her company’s Schofield factory was an “essential business” employing 2,000 workers. The company, she said, has done well to minimize spread of the disease within the business, requiring masks, social distancing and other hygiene, but that the company has suffered “disruptions” when workers have contracted the illness in the community.

Strobel said the company at its own clinic offers same day results testing for COVID-19.

Will Hsu, Hsu Ginseng Enterprises, said while it would be normal for there to be five or six ginseng buyers from China, Hong Kong or Taiwan here to buy root this time of year, today there are zero because of the uncontrolled coronavirus outbreak.

“I would stay home, too, given the risk right here,” he said.

Hsu said ginseng demand is down because there are fewer Chinatown shoppers and travelers from Asian buying ginseng as a gift. His normal workforce of 100 has decreased to 75, he said.

Hsu said he “hopes and prays” that central Wisconsin residents change their behavior to reduce COVID-19, but he is skeptical that will happen.

He noted that while the coronavirus surges across the United States, Taiwan, where his family is from, has had only 611 cases and seven deaths despite having four times Wisconsin’s population. He said Marathon County now suffers this number of cases and deaths in a single week.

The forum was sponsored by D.C. Everest Public Schools and the Greater Wausau Chamber of Commerce and hosted by WSAW news personalities Jeff Thelen and Phil Aldridge.