Wisconsin hospitals reach capacity in the New Year

Dr. Jeffrey Pothof, chief quality and safety officer for UW Health and emergency physician with the BerbeeWalsh Department of Emergency Medicine, joined PBS Wisconsin’s “Here & Now” with Frederica Freyburg to discuss the status of the COVID-19 pandemic in Wisconsin as cases and hospitalizations rise dramatically in the first week of 2022.

What are the takeaways?

The daily number of new COVID-19 cases surpassed 12,000 in Wisconsin on Jan. 7, with high case counts expected to continue. Health care providers are seeing an increase in hospitalizations despite the Omicron variant being less severe in general, partly due to the sheer number of infections.

Pothof: “When folks hear Omicron is less severe, I think they immediately think, ‘Well, it’s more like a cold. It doesn’t make people sick. Why are hospitals worried?’ That’s not what we mean when we say less severe. When we say less severe, we mean that if you take 100 people and you give them Omicron, a lower percent of those people will need a hospital bed. But it’s not to say that Omicron cannot cause severe disease. What we see in the unvaccinated is they make up a significant majority of the cases that get admitted into the hospital, and they don’t just stay for a day or two days. Sometimes they stay for a week, two weeks, sometimes months, on high-end therapies that take a lot of our rooms up and a lot of our staff resources up. If we could reduce that … folks in the state wouldn’t have to worry about whether or not a hospital is going to be ready for them when they suffer their medical emergency.”

Not only have hospitals lost staff to absences due to breakthrough COVID-19 infections, but burnout is prompting some employees to leave their jobs as the pandemic continues to take its toll.

Pothof: “Not only have I never seen anything like this, this wasn’t even on my radar going through medical training. We have one of the most well-resourced health care systems in the entire world. And to think that we’re at the point where people who need care for things like heart attacks [and] strokes might not be able to get it, that never crossed my mind when I was going through medical training that that would be the scenario where I work.”

A full transcript of the broadcast is available online here.