As omicron variant enters the state, state health department urges COVID vaccinations, boosters
COVID-19 numbers as high as a year ago
By Eileen Persike
With COVID-19 daily case rates not seen since the end of last year, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services has issued a Public Health Advisory heading into the holidays. The seven-day average of positive test results is 3,558 cases per day in the state.
Speaking during a DHS press briefing today, Marshfield Clinic Health System Chief Medical Officer Dr. William Melms said the new omicron variant could present a serious challenge to health systems.“The course and nature of this pandemic has been driven by the unvaccinated and while I respect that vaccination is a personal choice, it is important that everyone understands that our healthcare organizations have been pushed to the breaking point, and it is quite possible that omicron will push us beyond the breaking point,” Melms said.
DHS Secretary-designee Karen Timberlake said she is “calling on all Wisconsinites to take urgent action to prevent additional hospitalizations and deaths due to COVID-19.”
Timberlake is asking everyone to:
– Get vaccinated against COVID-19 and a booster as soon as eligible
– Wear a well-fitting mask when indoors with people you don’t live with
– Celebrate safely over the upcoming holidays by keeping gatherings small, getting tested before visiting others and staying home if symptomatic.
“The vast majority of our hospitalized patients – I need to make this clear – the vast majority of our hospitalized patients are unvaccinated,” Melms said. “One of the great tragedies of this pandemic is the number of nearly preventable deaths, nearly completely preventable deaths that we have throughout our state, and in my personal experience, within our healthcare organization.”
In a recent four-week period, Melms said 35 people have died from COVID-19 in Marshfield Clinic hospitals.
“Greater than 90% of the COVOD deaths in our facilities have been among the unvaccinated,” Melms said. But the impact is felt not only by COVID patients, but normal hospital operations.
“We are a referral facility in Marshfield, which means we take referrals from throughout the state and even beyond the state’s borders from smaller hospitals that need the level of care that we can provide to their patients,” Melms explained. “We are currently turning away over 100 referrals a week. Space is tight but mostly we don’t have the staff to care for everyone who needs our help.”
Finding staff wherever possible and doing their best is something Melms said all health care systems will continue to do.
“But something’s gotta give,” he said. “The message that I have is to strongly encourage people to become vaccinated. If you’ve had your two shot series, please get the booster, we know that it helps provide additional protection against not only delta but against omicron. And wear a mask when you are indoors among people who are not in your family. This is an important mitigation strategy as we go forward.”