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Local health leaders call COVID-19 spread “absolutely alarming”

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La Crosse, Wis. (WXOW) - Available ICU beds across the state are dropping to a dangerously low number and La Crosse care providers call the path the region is on, unsustainable.

According to the Wisconsin DHS, 19% of all hospitalized coronavirus patients in Wisconsin are in the ICU. And currently, only 9% of ICU beds are available.

This comes as hospitalizations continue to climb. The DHS reported that nearly 300 more COVID patients checked into the hospital on November 18, 2020. To date, that total has now topped 15,000, meaning that nearly 5% of people who test positive for COVID-19 in Wisconsin end up in the hospital.

Local healthcare providers say the message is an urgent one, and it's that we're on a dangerous path. Gundersen Health System says COVID-19 patients in their hospitals have more than doubled in recent months.

Mayo Clinic Health System in La Crosse has opened a second wing for COVID-19 patients. They're seeing a significant number of patients ending up in the ICU. And with hundreds of health care workers sidelined in quarantine, if this continues, they say it's only a matter of time before the local healthcare system is overwhelmed.

"We will see, not only deaths from COVID, but we'll see deaths from other medical issues that we're not able to address because we're concentrated on COVID," said Dr. Kevin Fitzgerald with Mayo Clinic Health System. "And if things get worse people may not get their cancer surgeries, people may not get procedures that are really important to their overall health and that's really what's waking us up in the middle of the night."

The joint plea from health providers is that they want people to think beyond themselves. During a news briefing Wednesday afternoon, leaders from both healthcare systems and the La Crosse County Health Department said practicing empathy for others and following COVID-19 safety guidelines could end an emerging crisis in the region.

The director of the La Crosse County Health Department, Jennifer Rombalski, said there are documented instances of the virus spreading at church services, and among a group watching a Packers game inside a bar.
But she is most concerned about the spread happening in workplaces.

Some of the guidance for employers is to require masks, allow work from home when possible, screen employees for symptoms and if quarantine is necessary -- do not shorten the timeline.

The health department is reporting that, currently, one in three people tested for COVID-19 in La Crosse County tests positive.

Find additional COVID-19 coverage here

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Andrea Albers

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