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With Record COVID-19 Hospitalizations, Wisconsin Opens Overflow Facility

With more than 1,000 COVID-19 patients in hospitals and continued high levels of COVID-19 cases and deaths, Wisconsin on Wednesday opened an overflow facility for treating patients with the coronavirus — but officials didn’t expect to bring patients to it until Thursday at the earliest.

“We are in crisis here in Wisconsin, and so we are ready to accept patients as the need arises,” said Julie Willems Van Dijk, deputy secretary of the state Department of Health Services. “The trajectory does not look good. We need to be prepared for that.”

Deb Standridge, CEO of the alternate care facility at Wisconsin State Fair Park in West Allis, said staff were talking to hospitals around the state about their needs and evaluating COVID-19 patients for potential transfer Thursday.

The Wisconsin Hospital Association said a record 1,017 patients were hospitalized with COVID-19 as of Wednesday, including a record 246 in intensive care. Dane County reported a record 78 hospitalizations for the coronavirus as of Tuesday.

In Madison, SSM Health St. Mary’s Hospital, UnityPoint Health-Meriter and UW Hospital were not planning to immediately send any patients to the overflow facility, spokeswomen said Wednesday. The hospitals have rescheduled a few procedures to help maintain adequate capacity, they said.

“Use of an alternate care facility is a part of our surge planning, should it be needed at a later date,” SSM Health spokeswoman Lisa Adams said.

The state on Wednesday reported 3,107 new cases of COVID-19 and 28 additional deaths, down a bit from record levels Tuesday. But those figures still boosted the daily averages to 2,840 cases and 17 deaths, the state’s highest levels of the pandemic. Wisconsin had the second-highest COVID-19 case rate in the country, after North Dakota, according to the COVID Tracking Project.

“We can anticipate, as we look at the numbers of cases here, that this is not going to go away anytime soon,” Willems Van Dijk said. “Some people will get much more ill, require hospitalization and unfortunately … will succumb to this disease.”

The 530-bed overflow facility is ready for now to care for up to 50 patients, but could increase capacity quickly if needed, Standridge said.

The facility will accept COVID-19 patients ages 18-70 who have been hospitalized at least two days and recovered enough that they have relatively normal vital signs, such as a temperature of 100 or less, Standridge said. Patients will typically stay three to six days, possibly receiving oxygen and intravenous medications, before going home, she said.

There will be no charge for the care, which will be covered by federal pandemic relief funds allocated to Wisconsin.

It’s not clear how long the facility, known as an ACF, will remain open. “We’re not taking the ACF down until there is evidence that the pandemic has passed,” Standridge said.


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