COVID-19 cases continue surge in Wisconsin as hospitals stay full

By: - December 17, 2021 6:12 am
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Within the coming month, the number of Wisconsin residents who have confirmed cases of COVID-19 is likely to top 1 million.

As of Wednesday, the state Department of Health Services (DHS) reported 4,485 new, confirmed cases, bringing the statewide total to 932,773 people who have been diagnosed with the infection from the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus. On average over the last seven days, Wisconsin has recorded 3,804 new cases a day. At that pace, it would take about two and a half to three weeks for the total number  of people who have had the illness to cross the 1 million mark.

It could take roughly the same amount of time for deaths from the coronavirus to top 10,000. Confirmed COVID-19 deaths now stand at 9,547 as of Wednesday, and have been sharply up compared with early autumn and late summer. On average, DHS has added 25 deaths per day over the last seven days to the toll. 

The majority of COVID-19 infections in the state in recent months have been due to the delta variant of the virus, but the new omicron variant has begun to surface in Wisconsin, according to public health officials. On Thursday, Public Health Madison & Dane County reported that omicron has now been detected in Dane County.

In a statement, the health agency’s director, Janel Heinrich, called vaccination for people 5 or older “the best protection against COVID-19,” including the omicron variant. She encouraged unvaccinated people to get a COVID-19 vaccine and for fully vaccinated people to get a booster dose. “Vaccination greatly reduces risk of severe illness or death,” Heinrich stated.

As of Thursday, nearly 58% of Wisconsin residents have been fully vaccinated — which does not include a booster shot — and slightly more than 61% have had at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine, according to DHS.

The Wisconsin Hospital Association (WHA) reported Thursday that there are 1,659 COVID-19 patients in hospitals around the state. Nearly 97% of intensive care unit hospital beds in the state are full, according to the WHA. About one-third of those are COVID-19 patients, said Dr. Ben Weston of the Medical College of Wisconsin in a Milwaukee County COVID-19 briefing on Tuesday, while the rest have other conditions.

At a news conference Thursday morning, Gov. Tony Evers said that the state is hoping to hear soon from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in response to Wisconsin’s request for an emergency team of health care workers to supplement facilities around the state where staff is in short supply.

On Wednesday, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) said in an interview he saw no reason for the Legislature to take action in response to the surge in COVID-19 cases.

Vos suggested that hospitals’ requirements that their employees get a COVID-19 vaccine might be to blame for the shortage of health care workers. According to the Wisconsin Hospital Association, however, less than 2% of hospital staffs have quit because of hospital vaccine mandates, the newspaper reported.

The Journal Sentinel reported that Vos, who has said he is vaccinated, disclosed he had a breakthrough COVID-19 infection earlier this fall.

Wisconsin Republican lawmakers have pushed a number of bills opposing vaccine mandates in various forms.

Three such bills were to be considered at a public hearing in the state Senate Committee on Labor and Regulatory Reform scheduled for Wednesday this week. One bill would qualify people for unemployment compensation who lost jobs because they did not get a required COVID-19 vaccine. Another bill would require employers to provide workers compensation to employees who are injured by a required COVID-19 vaccine.

A third bill would require employers to accept a worker’s previous COVID-19 infection as an alternative to regular testing or a vaccine requirement, although researchers have found that a prior infection by itself is much less reliable than vaccination  in protecting a person from a new case.

The Wednesday hearing was postponed due to “the need to follow COVID-19 protocols within the office of Chair Steve Nass,” WisPolitics reported on Monday. The website said the information was reported by an aide to Nass (R-Whitewater).

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Erik Gunn
Erik Gunn

Deputy Editor Erik Gunn reports and writes on work and the economy, health policy and related subjects, for the Wisconsin Examiner. He spent 24 years as a freelance writer for Milwaukee Magazine, Isthmus, The Progressive, BNA Inc., and other publications, winning awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, beat coverage, business writing, and commentary.