By Patrick Lynn
Gov. Tony Evers on Friday declared a new public health emergency in Wisconsin and extended a mask mandate set to expire on Saturday for another 60 days.
The new face-covering order requires all residents ages five and older “to wear a face-covering when they are indoors or in an enclosed space with anyone outside their household or living unit.”
Evers said the order is intended to reduce a hospital bed shortage, saying many of Wisconsin’s hospitals are operating “at or very near capacity,” and that health care workers were struggling to keep up with the demand.
“We continue to see record-setting days of COVID-19 cases in Wisconsin,” Evers said. “We need everyone to stay home and wear a mask if you have to go out. We need your help to stop the spread of this virus, and we all have to do this together.”
Wisconsin hospitals in every Healthcare Emergency Readiness Coalition Region are strained, reporting that their intensive care units are often full and that they may no longer be able to accept new patients.
More than a third of all hospitals in Wisconsin are operating at peak capacity and are unable to admit new patients, with 21 percent of medical-surgical beds and 32 percent of intensive care unit beds occupied by COVID-19 patients.
“With the large and growing influx of COVID-19 patients, there are fewer beds and resources available for people with non-COVID-19 conditions who require hospitalizations,” he said.
The surge in patients has caused ripple effects through the hospital system, with intermediate care units treating more patients who would otherwise be transferred to the intensive care unit and fewer transfers to larger hospitals for patients needing higher levels of care.
Hospitals are also facing widespread staffing issues, with over a third of Wisconsin hospitals reporting critical staffing shortages. Forty-two percent of hospitals expect a critical staffing shortage within a week, according to the Department of Health Services.
Multiple hospital systems have requested and received staffing assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
Wisconsin is experiencing unprecedented, near-exponential growth of the COVID-19 pandemic, with the average daily number of new cases currently at 6,254, almost double the average daily cases seen a month ago, and an increase of 260% since September 20, when the average case number was 1,720.
Since March, Portage Co. has reported 4,247 positive cases of the coronavirus, 20,255 negative cases, and 3,729 recoveries. The county is reporting 484 actives cases of the virus, with 174 hospitalizations and 34 deaths.