Wisconsin health care workers fear being pushed past breaking point as Omicron spreads

NOW: Wisconsin health care workers fear being pushed past breaking point as Omicron spreads

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) - Doctors are sounding the alarm as COVID-19 hospitalizations continue to rise in the state.

Health care workers are calling this a critical moment in the pandemic. Monday, Dec. 20, the Department of Health Services confirmed there are 19 cases of omicron in Wisconsin. That number is expect to rise rapidly. As a result, DHS issued a public health advisory, urging people to take urgent action to protect themselves.

"One doctor at the University of Minnesota just coined the phrase "Viral Blizzard," and I think that might characterize this accurately," Dr. William Melms said.

DHS is urging people to get vaccinated and to wear a mask to prevent more people from being hospitalized.

"Please hear this message differently, because we're in a different place and we need people to contribute in every way that we can," Dr. Ryan Westergaard, chief medical officer at DHS Bureau of Communicable Diseases, said.

Ninety-six percent of ICU beds in the state are in use. Ninety-eight percent of immediate care beds are occupied. This leaves little room for another surge, some hospitals already strained with very few resources.

"Space is tight in our facilities, but mostly we just don't have the staff to care for everyone who needs our help," Dr. Melms said.

Dr. Melms is the chief medical officer of Marshfield Clinic Health System. Elective surgeries requiring an in-patient bed have already been discontinued.

"In Marshfield, we converted an entire medical floor to an in-patient unit and we've doubled the beds in the unit. We converted our medical ICU into a COVID ICU and doubled the beds there," he said.

Because hospitals are so short-staffed, volunteer National Guard troops are training to be nursing assistants. The health department is also in talks with FEMA to deploy federal help to the state.

"What each of us chooses to do in the next few weeks really matters," Karen Timberlake, with DHS, said. There is a serious risk that increased cases of COVID-19 will overwhelm an already strained health care system."

The seven-day average of COVID cases in Wisconsin is at almost 3,300 cases a day. That's double from where we were just two months ago.

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