Milwaukee-area hospitals prepare for potential surge from COVID-19

Posted at 4:56 PM, Aug 20, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-20 19:19:13-04

MILWAUKEE — A surge in COVID-19 patients has been causing problems with hospitals across the southeast part of the United States. Now, hospitals in the Milwaukee area are preparing for the possibility of a surge.

Ascension Wisconsin

The heads of both the Medical College of Wisconsin and Ascension Wisconsin do not like where the trends are heading.

"What's happening in the southeast in particular right now, they're a month or two ahead of us. If we don't do things differently, we shouldn't expect a different outcome,” said Dr. John Raymond, CEO and president of the Medical College of Wisconsin.

"We're preparing ourselves now for everything we can possibly do,” said Dr. Gregory Brusko, chief clinical officer for Ascension Wisconsin.

staff nurse at Milwaukee VA in the COVID-19
Dawn Krueger, staff nurse at Milwaukee VA in the COVID-19 unit, enters a patient room.

According to Milwaukee County, on Aug. 18, 98 percent of the county’s hospital beds are in use. Of those beds, 195 or 8 percent are COVID-19 positive patients. It is the highest number they have seen since January.

"We know the delta variant is much more contagious, much more easily transmittable between people. And second is the viral loads that we are seeing, as it relates to the delta virus, is causing a much sicker population - sicker and younger,” said Brusko.

For Ascension Wisconsin, the average age of people hospitalized with COVID-19 is much younger than it was last fall. The average age is 42 years old. More than a quarter or 27 percent of ICU patents are under 49 year old, and most are not vaccinated.

COVID-19 coronavirus hospital nurse
Registered nurse Andraya Zelle treats a patient in the COVID intensive care unit at UW Medical Center-Montlake, Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021, in Seattle. King County, where the hospital is located, has been on a downward trend of COVID-19 cases after two-and-a-half straight months of increases. But the current lull could be, and some experts believe will be, upended as more contagious variants of the virus spread throughout United States. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

"In the neighborhood of 90 plus percent of the folks that are being hospitalized are unvaccinated,” said Brusko.

According to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, unvaccinated people are being hospitalized at a rate of nearly four times higher than those who are vaccinated. And they are dying at a rate 10 times higher.

Across all patients statewide, COVID-19 cases are seven times higher than they were a month ago.

"We are clearly seeing a surge in cases, and with that we are now seeing a surge of hospitalizations and death,” said Traci DeSalvo, acting director of the bureau of communicable diseases at the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.

Hospitals say they are increasing staffing and stocking up on things like personal protective gear. Ascension says it is close to temporarily halting elective surgeries. Area hospitals say their teams are meeting to plan for what they hope does not come.

"If we don't change, we don't do things differently, we're going to have a pretty significant surge here in Wisconsin,” said Raymond.

“The best thing we can do, frankly, is to get the community vaccinated. That's the single best most important thing we can do to mitigate that risk on any of our health systems,” said Brusko.

Doctors also say people need to wear masks indoors and socially distance.

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