COVID-19 hospitalizations reach all-time high in WI; officials warn of 'twin' pandemics during flu season

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MILWAUKEE, Wis. (CBS 58) -- Daily hospitalizations from COVID-19 hit an all-time high in Wisconsin on Friday, Sept. 25, according to the Wisconsin Hospital Association.

WHA's dashboard, which uses data from Wisconsin's Department of Health Services and EMResource, shows 543 patients were hospitalized on Friday, following a steep incline that began on Sept. 18. Prior to this week, the most daily hospitalizations had been 446 back on April 9.

"It's really concerning," said Mark Kaufman, chief medical officer for WHA. "When you look at Wisconsin's performance in the last month compared to most other states, it's dismal."

Kaufman told CBS 58 a number of factors explain the increases this week, including people in Wisconsin not following public health guidelines and students heading back to school and college.

"Even though they are less likely to be hospitalized than older patients, as those younger people go to the grocery store and mix in the community, they expose more susceptible people to the virus, especially older people who are more likely to be hospitalized," Kaufman said.

Total COVID-19 patients hospitalized per day in Wisconsin Courtesy: Wisconsin Hospital Association

WHA's dashboard shows the northern and rural parts of Wisconsin are seeing the highest rates of increases in the state, which he said could be explained by out-of-town visitors flocking north during the last part of summer and Labor Day.

"The region that has the least acceleration of hospitalized patients with COVID is actually south central followed by southeast," Kaufman said.

The southeastern region as a whole has seen a slight increase in hospitalizations over the last week, but the numbers are considerably lower than in April or June.

In Milwaukee County, there has been a slight uptick in hospitalizations, according to Ben Weston, director of medical services for the Milwaukee County Office of Emergency Management.

"Our county is beginning to reflect the increasing burden of disease of the state more generally," Weston said.

Total COVID-19 patients hospitalized per day in southeast Wisconsin Courtesy: Wisconsin Hospital Association

Kaufman and local health officials said their next concern is the upcoming flu season.

"We have this potentially twin pandemic of COVID-19 and influenza as we come into the influenza season here within the next several weeks. That's going to be very concerning. It's going to be very problematic to tease out COVID symptoms from influenza symptoms," said Darren Rausch, health officer and director of the Greenfield Health Department.

Kaufman noted that the good news is that the same measures being used to prevent the spread of COVID-19 also will help prevent the spread of the flu. He said wearing masks, social distancing and getting the flu vaccine will be the best ways to prevent a strain on hospital resources and beds in the coming weeks.

"Hospitals are smart. They're flexible. They're used to dealing with these situations, but we've never had the confluence of a COVID-19 pandemic with an influenza pandemic. So there is that danger that if we all don't do our part, we could really stretch hospital resources," Kaufman said.

He said hospitals do pay close attention to COVID-19 data and make adjustments if more hospital beds are needed, such as cutting back on elective surgeries and opening new ICU beds.

As of Friday, Milwaukee County's COVID-19 dashboard showed 68 percent of ICU beds and 85 floor beds were currently in use in the county. Twenty-five percent of ventilators were in use in the county, as of Friday.

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