Milwaukee County would see a spike in COVID-19 hospitalizations and exceed health systems’ capacity in late June if all physical distancing measures ended May 26, according to a model from the Medical College of Wisconsin. The model predicts what would happen if county residents returned to pre-outbreak levels of social activity when Gov. Tony Evers’ Safer at Home order expires next month.Under that scenario, the model shows health systems would be at bed capacity, with 2,500 hospitalized patients, by the week of June 15. Hospitalizations would peak with more than 6,250 patients during the week of June 29, and wouldn’t return to below capacity until after Aug. 3, according to the model.The model also shows the number of ICU beds needed would exceed capacity from June 22 through Aug. 3. There are about 650 designated ICU beds across southeastern Wisconsin, according to Wisconsin Hospital Association data. Darren Rausch, director and health officer with the Greenfield Health Department, shared the projections during a Tuesday press conference with Milwaukee County and local municipal health officials. The model assumes the transmission rate of COVID-19 is consistent with the rate calculated March 16-22, the week after the outbreak began but before Safer at Home was enacted. While Safer at Home is set to expire on May 26, it’s unlikely that social distancing measures will lift entirely at that time. Earlier this week, Evers outlined his plan for a phased reopening of the state once certain benchmarks are met, including a 14-day decline in new COVID-19 cases, significantly greater testing capacity statewide and more PPE for health care and public safety workers. To date, hospitals across the region have not yet exceeded their ICU bed or ventilator capacity. Public health officials say the flattening of new COVID-19 cases over the past two weeks in Wisconsin shows that social distancing is working, and has allowed health systems to meet the demand for care. At the same time, the Safer at Home order has forced many businesses in the state to shut down, resulting in a massive number of layoffs.The MCW model also projects what would happen if some social distancing measures remained in place after Safer at Home lifts on May 26 — a scenario that reflects Evers' plan. Under that scenario, the model shows a long, flattened peak of hospitalizations occurring from early August to late October, with cases never exceeding hospital capacity. ICU hospitalzations would also remain under capacity, according to the model. That model assumes schools are still closed, mass gatherings are still banned and limitations remain for non-essential businesses and restaurants. A third scenario showed that, if physical distancing continued indefinitely, there would be no peaks in hospitalizations.
“Obviously this is a scenario that is not plausible as a long-term scenario; however, it does demonstrate one particular extreme,” Rausch said.
Rausch said the models highlight the importance of taking an incremental approach to easing social distancing. “The data shows that Safer at Home continues to work and, secondarily, a careful phased approach to reopening is equally important in our fight to lessen the impact of COVID-19,” Rausch said. Get more news and insight in the March 30 issue of BizTimes Milwaukee. Subscribe to get updates in your inbox here.