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Coronavirus care facility at State Fair Park to open April 21 as ICU and ventilator capacity nears

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MILWAUKEE COUNTY, Wis. (CBS 58) - As CBS 58 News reported, State Fair Park in West Allis will be turned into an alternate care facility for coronavirus patients.

The pressure is on to get the facility running, because doctors say Milwaukee area healthcare systems are expected to reach capacity for intensive care unit beds and ventilators in a week or so.

Milwaukee’s health commissioner says in two weeks the alternate care facility inside the State Fair Park’s Expo Center will be ready to accept patients. It’ll be built by The Army Corps of Engineers but Milwaukee area healthcare systems are expected to staff and supply the facility.

Doctors say people obeying the safer at home order and social distancing has helped to flatten the curve. The daily growth rate in positive cases has dropped from more than 30 percent to less than 13 percent in 10 days.

“Everyone who’s making sacrifices to flatten the curve, you are making a difference,” says Dr. John Raymond, President and CEO of the Medical College of Wisconsin.

But Tuesday’s election is expected to compromise the effort.

“Are we going to see another peak? Another spike? Is this going to set us back? We anticipate that this will,” says Dr. Jeanette Kowalik, Commissioner of Health for the City of Milwaukee.

Dr. Raymond says local projections show area health systems will reach capacity for ventilators and ICU beds in seven to 10 days.

“We’re going to reach capacity before we reach the peak,” adds Dr. Raymond.

“Our peak was moved up to April 17th,” said Dr. Kowalik.

Dr. Kowalik says a partnership group between hospitals, health centers and public health leaders met to discuss the facility at State Fair Park.  It’s expected to open on April 21st.

“I mean April 21st is you know better than May 21st, so there should be some additional support for a surge,” she adds.

“We’re trying to get an exact number on how many bed and resources are currently available and how many they can work up to,” says Dr. Ben Weston, Director of Medical Services for Milwaukee County Office of Emergency Management.

Dr. Raymond says area healthcare systems have already created a 40 percent increase in capacity by repurposing ventilators from operating rooms and other sites to prepare for the influx, but he says it will be a challenge to staff and supply the alternate care facility on top of that.

“Our talent base is going to be tapped out,” says Dr. Raymond. “We won’t be able to necessarily easily staff or recruit people in the region to staff that hospital.”

Dr. Raymond says with the continuation of social distancing he does expect the area to move into a recovery phase within the next few weeks, but in order to get there he says we have to prevent overwhelming the hospitals.

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