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COVID-19 concerns loom as people prepare to travel, gather for the holidays

Posted at 10:34 PM, Dec 20, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-20 23:34:45-05

MILWAUKEE — The COVID-19 pandemic still weighs on people's minds for the second holiday season in Wisconsin, especially as the threat of the omicron variant looms.

At Hayat Pharmacy on Layton Avenue in Milwaukee, the line for testing is steady. Workers said Monday was one of the busiest days for testing since May 2020—they believe about 350 tests could be administered by the end of the day.

"People are panicking because they are saying, this is the last week I want to be sick," said Hayat Pharmacy CEO Dr. Hashim Zaibak.

"I'm probably just staying at home in case I'm positive. If not, I'll probably go out and do stuff with my family," said Ilir Mehmedi, who was in line getting tested.

State health officials issued a public health advisory Monday urging people to get vaccinated, boosted, and tested. It also urges people to wear a mask and keep gatherings small.

Right now, officials say COVID-19 has landed more than 1,600 people in the hospital statewide—more than 420 of them are in ICU. They say 96 percent of statewide ICU beds and more than 98 percent of intermediate care beds are in use.
"It is quite possible that omicron will push us beyond the breaking point," said Marshfield Clinic Chief Medical Officer Dr. William Melms.

Officials announced Monday a team of 20 people from the U.S. Navy will support Bellin Hospital in Green Bay.

Other health workers echo the staffing challenges.

"We can always create more space, which we do, but we cannot create the people to care for our patients," Dr. Melms said.

Meanwhile, families appeared overjoyed to reunite at Mitchell Airport. Some say they refuse to let the pandemic keep them apart for another holiday season.

"We have to get back together with family and try to be as safe as possible, and it's just nice to be together again," said Louisa Kahn.

"We're all boosted, so we're good with that, and I made sure they had their masks before they left," said Jackie Schultz, who was picking up her parents.

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