As hospitals near capacity, doctors and city leaders urge vaccines and use of masks

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Health officials are calling it a "critical time" for hospitals throughout the state, with just three percent of ICU beds available for patients that need them.

On Monday, Milwaukee County saw 229 new patients hospitalized with Covid-19, a new record for 2021 according to Dr. Ben Weston, chief health policy advisor for Milwaukee County.

Eric Conley, Froedtert Hospital president, and many other local health care leaders met Tuesday, Dec. 7 to discuss the current shortages of beds.

"The vast majority of our COVID-19 admissions are patients that are unvaccinated, and could have prevented their need for care if they had taken action earlier during this pandemic," said Conley.

Conley said their status as a research hospital means they have many people who have medical reasons they didn't get vaccinated, but elsewhere that isn't the case.


"Entire regions of our state have single digits. We're not talking nine to ten, we're talking zero; one to two," Dr. Weston explained, saying the rates that beds are filling also impacts the general public. "Those aren't all Covid-19 needs. These are people with heart attacks, people with strokes, people with trauma require those beds, rely on those beds."

Dr. Weston says the limited number of hospital beds available are a result of the Delta variant surge, and with many unknowns surrounding the Omicron variant, health officials are continuing to encourage people to get vaccinated, wear a mask and social distance when possible.

"Generally speaking, for each individual, if you're indoors, if you're in public, you want to wear a mask," Dr. Weston said. "It's a time to buckle down. It's a time to mask up, to keep your distance, ventilate and if you've been on the wall, if you've been hedging about vaccination, now's the time to pull the trigger. Get vaccinated, and certainly, if you've already been vaccinated, follow through; get boosted. Make sure you maximize your protection."

One case of the Omicron variant has already been discovered in Milwaukee County with health officials saying that the person was fully vaccinated and had received a booster as well. Dr. William Hartman, principal investigator for UW's pediatric vaccine clinical trial, says despite the chance of breakthrough cases, the vaccine plays an important role in preventing serious illness or hospitalizations.

"I think what people have to realize is that vaccines don't form a forcefield around a person," Dr. Hartman explained. "What they do is prime the body to fight infection if they were to become infected by Covid-19. The best defense we have against any of the variants at this point of Covid-19 is the vaccine."

Which is why Dr. Weston said masking, social distancing, and of course getting vaccinated are all more important than ever.

"We're at a dangerous point for Covid in the state, that's due to Delta, and we have the unknown of Omicron on the horizon," said Weston.

Conley says right now there's only one thing individuals can do to prepare for that, which is getting the vaccine.

"I wouldn't be doing my job if I didn't advocate for the Covid-19 vaccine and its booster," said Conley.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett provided new numbers Tuesday, showing that the city remains in the extreme transmission category for Covid-19 cases per 100,000 with 319 per 100,000. The city's percent positivity rate is now at 10.3 percent.

"Covid-19 is growing more present in our community," Mayor Barrett said. "This is unfortunate because we all know this is the time of year when people want to get together with our families, but we should be taking the precautions that are necessary."

Mayor Barrett says that 60.1 percent of those aged 16 and older in Milwaukee are now fully vaccinated, with 65 percent of people in that age group having received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

He also encouraged people in Milwaukee to get their flu shots, saying the city has been hit "pretty hard" by influenza over the past few weeks, with 14 people being hospitalized just last week.

"We're dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic, but there's also what we would call the traditional annual flu that is being spread, and that's hitting us pretty hard right now," Mayor Barrett said. "Please seek out vaccines, including the booster dose if eligible, to protect yourself, your family and the community."

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