Hospitalization demand in Wisconsin could exceed capacity in 3-5 weeks

Dr. John Raymond

Last updated on March 27th, 2020 at 11:51 am

The number of patients needing hospitalization for COVID-19 will exceed the Wisconsin hospital system’s capacity within three to five weeks, according to a model created by the Wisconsin Hospital Association.

Dr. John Raymond, president and chief executive officer of the Medical College of Wisconsin, highlighted those projections in a presentation to Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce members Tuesday, noting that the state is not flattening the curve quickly enough.

“It is everyone’s responsibility to take action now to mitigate the spread of COVID-19,” Raymond said.

WHA declined on Wednesday to speak about its modeling, saying it is still in process.

As of Tuesday afternoon, there were 457 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and five reported deaths in Wisconsin. About 20% of infected patients are hospitalized, according to Dr. Ryan Westergaard, DHS chief medical officer.

Hospitals are now preparing for a surge in seriously ill patients, Dr. Mark Kaufman, chief medical officer with the WHA, said in an interview with WisconsinEye on Tuesday.

Across the state, there are about 11,000 hospital beds, 2,600 ICU beds and about 620 ventilators available. With an average inpatient occupancy rate of 58%, the state’s hospitals currently have capacity to meet the need for beds, Kaufman said.

“The inpatient wave really hasn’t hit yet,” he said.

“All (WHA) member hospitals are really planning for a large, large surge,” he added. “We hope it doesn’t come to that. Nobody really knows how big the surge wave is going to be and how quickly it’s going to get here. I think hospitals are preparing for a major influx and they should be.”

Slowing the rate of infection is the only way to ensure health care resources continue to meet the demand, Kaufman said.

State public health officials echoed concerns about hospitalization capacity on Tuesday.

Wisconsin Department of Health Secretary-designee Andrea Palm told reporters that Wisconsin was expected to have 22,000 positive COVID-19 cases and an estimated 440 to 1,500 deaths as a result of the virus by April 8, without implementing Gov. Tony Evers’ Safer at Home order.

“This means thousands of Wisconsinites would need hospitalization and we would exceed our current … hospital bed capacity,” Palm said.

The doubling rate in Wisconsin is every three days, which is consistent with rates seen in other countries.

Without a vaccine or working antiviral medications, social distancing is the only available tool to fight the spread of COVID-19, Palm said.

“Keeping our health care system from becoming overwhelmed is our No. 1 priority,” Palm said.

While President Donald Trump has suggested he might ease social distancing requirements after 15 days, Kaufman said he isn’t “optimistic” that will be a sufficient amount of time to curb the virus’s spread.

“Certainly that’s a good point to reassess,” he said. “But if you look around the world and other states, specifically California, New York and Washington state, it’s taken way more than 15 days to see an impact of distancing.”

Evers’ Safer at Home order, which prohibits all nonessential travel in the state, is slated to last through April 24.

Countries that have successfully slowed the virus’s spread, such as South Korea, have taken “very aggressive” social distancing measures, Kaufman said.

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Lauren Anderson
Lauren Anderson covers health care, nonprofits, education and insurance for BizTimes. Lauren previously reported on education for the Waukesha Freeman. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she studied journalism, history and African studies. In her free time, Lauren enjoys spending time with family and friends and seeing live music wherever she can.