More than 2,900 WI health care workers had symptoms or tested positive for COVID-19 in November

NOW: More than 2,900 WI health care workers had symptoms or tested positive for COVID-19 in November

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- As of Monday, Nov. 30, health care workers have represented more than 15,400 of the state’s COVID-19 cases, according to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.

Doctors say the rate of COVID-19 positive health care workers they see often matches the rate of spread in the community. The Wisconsin Hospital Association says the growing number of health care workers testing positive or having to quarantine is concerning.

“Those two things combined have had a very significant impact,” said Eric Borgerding, president and CEO of the Wisconsin Hospital Association.

Wisconsin DHS data show from the week of Nov. 1, 2020 to Nov. 22, 2020, more than 2,900 health care workers in the state began experiencing symptoms or tested positive for COVID-19. 

“It’s something that’s been difficult to try to work around is, you know, when a fairly decent number of staff have COVID or have COVID-like illness,” said Dr. Jeff Pothof, emergency medicine physician at UW Health.

“The vast majority are coming from outside of the health care setting, in fact, you know a hospital or a clinic is probably one of the safest places you can be,” said Borgerding.

Doctors say for health care workers, the threat of getting COVID-19 comes from community spread.

“In the hospital I have PPE, I know when to use it, I know how to use it and I know I can keep myself safe,” adds Dr. Pothof.

Borgerding says it’s not just COVID-19 depleting the supply of health care workers, he says the pandemic as a whole is taking a toll on the resiliency of nurses and doctors. Area hospitals cannot afford to lose more health care heroes if another surge comes.

“You can lose a nurse from an exposure—or you can lose a nurse because they’re just burned out,” said Borgerding.

“We’re going to be stuck with a flood in health care where there’s more people looking for our care than we have the ability to provide,” says Dr. Pothof.

Dr. Pothof says while many think of nurses and doctors as frontline workers, he challenges the community to think the opposite.

“Health care workers are not the front line—they are the last line of defense, in the front line is really those who live in our community,” he adds.

He asks people to mask up, distance and wash your hands. Borgerding says the supply and resiliency of health care staff is not infinite.

“We’ve got to really keep our foot on the gas pedal as it relates to taking those precautions,” said Borgerding.

The Wisconsin Hospital Association says many hospitals are having to bring in nurses from other states or through temporary staffing agencies, but it’s getting tougher because demand for health care workers continues to grow.

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