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A record number of COVID patients need our care each day: Wisconsin doctor

Seana Smith
·3 min read

The coronavirus case count continues to soar nationwide as infections rise in all 50 states. The outbreak of the pandemic is especially grim in the Midwest, where states like Wisconsin have just over 90% of its ICU beds in use, according to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.

That recent surge is placing strain on the state’s health care system, as the number of hospitals reach maximum capacity by the day. Dr. Jeff Pothof, chief quality officer at the University of Wisconsin Health told Yahoo Finance Live that his hospital is pulling out “all our stop gaps” to create capacity and meet staffing requirements.

“As of today we have four times as many patients in our hospital than we ever did back in the spring,” said Pothof. “We are trying to pull out all our stopgaps to create capacity, to find staff... We're utilizing spaces that are far down on our contingency plans, converting a Neuro ICU into a COVID-19 ICU, instead of allowing that for patients who needed neurosurgery. We’re using a little bit of our children's hospital to house adult patients. Every day we continue to break a new record for the number of COVID patients that need our care.”

The U.S. recorded more than 155,000 new cases on Tuesday while the number of hospitalizations hit a high of more than 77,000, according to the COVID-19 Tracking Project. Wisconsin was among 20 states to record its highest number of hospitalizations on record Tuesday with all 72 counties in the state reporting new cases.

The U.S. is seeing a major surge. (Graphic: David Foster/Yahoo Finance)
The U.S. is seeing a major surge. (Graphic: David Foster/Yahoo Finance)

The University of Wisconsin Health has made additional adjustments in recent days to increase ICU capacity, including the reduction of non-urgent procedures and surgeries, in an effort to make staff, hospital beds and resources available for COVID-19 patients. But even if hospitals add beds, staffing remains a challenge, because there are only so many critical care nurses and doctors who have experience with the virus, leading Pothof to warn it could affect quality of care.

“The truth of the matter is, if you're coming into COVID-19 late in the game and you're being put in a unit that was basically makeshift, that isn't really meant to take care of COVID-19, with staff who are working their third and fourth shift in a row, we're not going to have as good a quality of outcomes,” he said. “People are not going to do as well as if they had that top tier care, the care we want to provide to them.”

Taking a closer look at the numbers out of Wisconsin — the seven-day positivity rate in the state remains above 35%, down slightly from the all-time high of just over 36% a few days ago. That’s nearly double the number the state saw just one month ago.

The rapid spread is taking its toll on health care workers, as many have been working around the clock for months to care for critically ill patients. Despite the challenging road ahead, Pothof said his team continues to rise to the challenge, doing all they can to treat as many patients as possible.

“This is our moment. And despite having to work two, three shifts more than they should work, working doubles, they are showing up. They are putting in the effort,” Pothof added. “What they are asking of people now is lay off a little bit on calling us heroes and the accolades. Instead, we want to see you masked. We want to see you distanced. We're struggling. We need your help.”

Seana Smith anchors Yahoo Finance’s 3-5 pm ET program. Follow her on Twitter @SeanaNSmith