COVID-19 surge causes delays in access to health care

By Patrick Lynn

Wisconsin saw its highest level of COVID-19 hospitalizations this week since January 2021, according to the Wisconsin Hospital Association.

Portage Co. has been designed as one of 40 counties in Wisconsin as having “very high” case activity, with 1,059.1 cases per 100,000 people, according to the Department of Health Services.

Local health care systems say the surge is creating “critical access issues,” as the need to care for COVID-19 patients continues to grow in the shade of “industry-wide staffing challenges.” As a result, many non-emergent surgeries that would require a hospital stay are being delayed because patient rooms are currently in high demand.

“When you need access to emergency care or care that requires an inpatient hospital bed, that care may be delayed or it might be harder to come by,” said Robin Rudie, Aspirus Wausau Hospital Emergency Department Director. “We might be asking you to consider transferring to another hospital location in our system to get a bed.”

The DHS said the majority of patients hospitalized for COVID-19 are unvaccinated. As of Dec. 17, 106 of the 137 patients in the Aspirus system hospitalized for the virus were not fully vaccinated. More than 90 percent of the 43 COVID-19 ICU patients are not fully vaccinated.

“I’ve been a nurse for 20 years. I’ve been at Aspirus for 22 years and this has been by far the hardest two years of my career,” Rudie said.

Patients are still encouraged to seek medical attention if they need care but should be prepared to wait for non-emergent needs.

Portage Co. has 10,518 confirmed cases of COVID since the onset of the pandemic. To date, COVID has caused the death of 121 residents in the county, with an additional four deaths listed as “probable” due to the virus.

Free COVID testing is offered at the Portage Co. Courthouse, 1516 Strongs Ave., during the winter months.

Anyone who wishes to receive the free test should enter the northside ramp of the courthouse. Signs will be posted. Tests are offered on Tuesdays from 1-5 p.m. and Wednesdays from 9 a.m. to noon.

Appointments can be made in advance by calling 715.346.1978.

COVID symptoms include cough (new onset or worsening of chronic cough), shortness of breath, fever or chills, sore throat, running nose, fatigue and body aches, headaches, loss of taste or smell, and gastrointestinal problems, though not everyone with COVID experiences symptoms. Asymptomatic people can still spread the virus to others.

The Wisconsin Department of Health also offered free test kits by mail. The kits are shipping via UPS and can be requested at dhs.wisconsin.gov/covid-19/collection.htm.