In response to the growing hospitalizations due to COVID-19, Wisconsin opened an alternate care facility at State Fair Park on Wednesday.
Over the last week, Wisconsin has averaged more than 2,800 new coronavirus cases a day. State health officials say that’s indicative of unchecked community spread. Surrounding states like Illinois, Michigan and Minnesota have about one-fourth to one-half the per capita rates of infection.
One reason for the climb in Wisconsin is that the state Supreme Court abruptly ended Evers’ safer-at-home order in May, according to Deputy Health Secretary Julie Willems Van Dijk.
“The next day, in fact that evening, Wisconsin was fully open with very few restrictions in place around gathering or limitations on gathering except in a few localities where local health officers issued those orders. That is very different than almost every other state and certainly from the majority of Midwestern states that surround Wisconsin that did more gradual openings over the summer,” says Willems Van Dijk.
Willems Van Dijk says states opening gradually were largely able to keep transmission at lower levels.
Another reason for the surge in cases here? Willems Van Dijk says conservative-led lawsuits have prevented Evers from issuing additional statewide orders to limit gatherings and close bars and restaurants.
“In Wisconsin, we do not have that authority at the state level and so there are fewer tools in our toolbox than some of the other states that we have seen. I think if you compare to some of the other states that are also experiencing when you look at per-capita surges in disease right now, they are also other states like the Dakotas, that had no restrictions on gathering in place,” says Willems Van Dijk.
This week more than 1,000 people were hospitalized for COVID-19 — the highest since the pandemic hit Wisconsin.
The alternate care facility can take non-critical patients from hospitals around the state, says Deb Standridge, care facility CEO.
“So a patient that is first of all in the ICU or even transitioning out of an ICU into a step-down type of care floor at a hospital, we would not care for. ... We want [patients] to have a temperature of 100 or less, their vital signs such as blood pressure, their pulse, et cetera, needs to be in the normal range,” says Standridge.
If a patient’s condition worsens after being transferred to the facility, the patient can be returned to the hospital by ambulance 24/7.
Despite the additional beds, Willems Van Dijk stresses the importance of avoiding hospitalization in the first place. She says people should take precautions, including limiting gatherings.
“Wear your mask protect to protect those around you. Stay home, except for when you need to go out for essential errands. Stay 6 feet apart from each other. Wash your hands frequently. And if you have symptoms or have been exposed, get tested and remain isolated until you know your test results,” says Willems Van Dijk.
Willems Van Dijk says people exposed to or diagnosed with COVID-19 need to self-isolate for 14 days. She emphasizes what may be obvious but also under-appreciated: The more cases there are in the community, the greater the potential for the spread of the coronavirus.
“If you have two people exposing other people, you're not going to have nearly as many cases than if you have 100 people exposing other people. And right now, we have thousands of people exposing other people,” says Willems Van Dijk.
She is hopeful Wisconsinites will take the proper safety measures to reverse the spike in cases.