For eight hours the week before last, Fort HealthCare reached maximum capacity as hospitals across Wisconsin are seeing a surge in COVID-19 patients with almost 80 percent of beds now being used.
This came as the virus continues to spike statewide and as President Donald Trump was forced to cancel a rally in Janesville Saturday because he tested positive for the coronavirus.
Two cities in Jefferson County also were labeled as red-zone areas in the state this week.
Fort Atkinson and Watertown are among a dozen cities in Wisconsin that the White House Coronavirus Task Force named in a weekly report as having the most cases per 100,000 residents.
“Fort Atkinson alone would also be considered as having a critical level of COVID-19 activity in the context of those other cities in the report within the same designation, with 368 cases per 100,000 in the week through 9/30/2020,” said Samroz Jakvani, epidemiologist for the Jefferson County Health Department.
Also on the list were Appleton, Green Bay, Oshkosh, La Crosse, Fond du Lac, Stevens Point, Wausau, Manitowoc, Shawano, Menomonie and Marinette. Watertown and Fort Atkinson were labeled as the same region.
Jakvani said that the level of community transmission and number of new cases per day is high enough that most of Wisconsin should be considered as having a high risk of COVID activity and risk of exposure.
In Lake Mills there are currently 107 cases, in Watertown, there have been 378 cases of the virus since March. And Fort Atkinson has had 372, by far the most of any cities fully located in Jefferson County.
On Friday, the state continued hitting near-daily record numbers for the virus with 2,745 people testing positive, pushing the state total to 127,906 since the pandemic started in March. By Sunday, the number was 132,663, with 7,265 probable cases a 1,377 deaths. Jefferson County has had 1,651 positive cases of the coronavirus, with 77 probable cases and eight deaths.
The seven-day rolling average for the county ending Sept. 30 is 39 new cases daily per 100,000 residents. A number of 25 cases or more is considered “high risk.” This particular figure does not include the City of Watertown.
Meanwhile, as cases continue to stay high, hospitals are seeing a surge in patients, with a 38-percent increase in the last two weeks in the Madison-to-Milwaukee region. But the staggering number is the northern part of the state, where hospitalization rates have grown 75 percent near cities like Eau Claire and Wausau.
“Regarding hospital capacity, we’re very concerned,” said Chris Barron, executive director of population health and clinical services at Fort HealthCare.
There are a lot of factors that play into capacity for a hospital, Barron said, including using rooms for specific uses and length of stay. While the typical hospital stay might be two or three days for a non-COVI-19 patient, that is not the case for those who test positive for the virus.
“COVID-19 is very different as patients are hospitalized much longer. Under normal circumstances, a room might see five to seven different patients over a two-week period,” Barron said. “With COVID-19, that room will likely be used by one patient, as those patients are sicker, longer than most of our other admissions.”
The isolation requirements of COVID-19 patients present a challenge, he said.
“Despite the challenges COVID-19 presents, Fort HealthCare continues to be vigilant and a safe place for all patients to get the care they need. Currently, Fort HealthCare, as many other area health facilities, are seeing both an increase in COVID-19-related illness and non-COVID-19-related illnesses,” Barron said.
And, he added, the trend of an increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations across the state could reach Jefferson County.
“There has been an even sharper increase in COVID-19 patients hospitalized in other regions of the state. As we have seen with all things COVID-19, that trend will likely reach our county,” he said. “However, we have a unique opportunity of advanced knowledge to change our behaviors as a community and perhaps head off some of the challenges seen elsewhere in the state.”
Also on Friday, after President Trump canceled his two weekend campaign rallies in the Badger State, Republicans who control the Legislature filed a motion in support of a lawsuit that seeks to undo a statewide mask-order extension issued by Gov. Tony Evers. A hearing on the case is scheduled for Monday.
Evers, along with local health and elected officials, had urged Trump to reconsider the Saturday rallies in Green Bay and Janesville hours before the president tested positive and was subsequently sent to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.
On Sunday, the Associated Press reported that Trump’s doctors said his blood oxygen level dropped suddenly twice in recent days. Still, they said he “continued to improve” and suggested he could be discharged as early as Monday.
Speaking on the steps of the military hospital where Trump spent a third day, his doctors again sidestepped questions, including the timing of his second dip in oxygen, which they neglected to mention in multiple statements the day before, or whether lung scans showed any damage.
Pressed about conflicting information he and the White House released on Saturday, Navy Cmdr. Dr. Sean Conley acknowledged that he had tried to present a rosy description of the president’s condition.
“I was trying to reflect the upbeat attitude of the team, that the president, that his course of illness has had. Didn’t want to give any information that might steer the course of illness in another direction,” Conley said. “And in doing so, came off like we’re trying to hide something, which wasn’t necessarily true. The fact of the matter is that he’s doing really well.”
Before walking away, Conley said the president had a “high fever” and a blood oxygen level below 94 percent on Friday and during “another episode” on Saturday. He was evasive about the timing (“It was over the course of the day, yeah, yesterday morning,” he said) and when asked whether Trump’s level had dropped below 90 percent (“We don’t have any recordings here on that.”) But he revealed that Trump was give a dose of the steroid dexamethasone in response.
Trump’s blood oxygen level currently stands at 98 percent, Trump’s medical team said.
Blood oxygen saturation is a key health marker for COVID-19 patients. A normal reading is between 95 and 100. A drop below 90 is concerning.
The doctors also declined to say what they had found in scans of the president’s lungs.
“There’s some expected findings, but nothing of any major clinical concern,” Conley said.