Yesterday broke another new record for COVID cases in Wisconsin, with the state confirming 11,547 new cases on Wednesday. This is now the third day in a row with new record numbers of confirmed COVID cases across the state.
Dane County is also experiencing a wave, as the county hit record numbers of 1,939 confirmed cases yesterday. The majority of these cases came from people ages 23-39, according to data from Public Health Madison and Dane County.
For the two weeks over the holidays – from December 20th to January 2nd – Dane County saw an average of 695 cases per day. Nearly one out of every 50 Dane County residents had a positive PCR test in that period.
Ken Van-Horn, testing director with Public Health Madison and Dane County, says that the wave is putting extra stress on tests.
“We’re facing a perfect storm of testing demand, from a number of different factors. Increased Omicron tests, increased testing over the holidays as people wanted to travel and gather with loved ones, and then two weeks of testing availability because of Christmas Eve and Christmas, and New Years Eve and New Years. So all of those factors combined to create a backlog of testing demand, and we expect that to continue if not rise,” Van-Horn says.
Today, Public Health Madison and Dane County announced that the Alliant Energy Center will return to a testing center starting next Monday. The testing site will look a bit different, with “park and walk up” rather than a drive-through. Van-Horn says that the appointment-based walk in system will be more efficient.
“Drive up testing is really inefficient for staff, we need a lot more staff per test to operate a drive through. And it is dramatically more expensive, not just because of staff, but because of the physical facilities and the fact that those have to be leased, and those facilities have to be so much larger in order to handle a lot of traffic that is continuously moving verses a parking lot. It’s difficult when there’s a big ebb and flow, when there’s huge lines in the morning and in the afternoon we’re sitting with staff with not much testing to do. By spreading these appointments throughout the day, we’re operating at maximum capacity all day long, and that means we can do more tests with more people,” Van-Horn says.
An appointment at the Allient Energy Center can be made here.
The rise in cases is also putting a major strain on Madison hospitals. Several local hospitals, including SSM St. Mary’s, Unity Point Meriter, and UW Health, have announced they are postponing surgeries and procedures, citing staff shortages and an influx of COVID-19 patients.
Traci DeSalvo is the Director of the Bureau of Communicable Diseases with the state health department. She says hospitals statewide are experiencing something similar.
“Statewide, 97% of intensive-care beds and 98% of immediate use beds are in use. There are 2002 people currently hospitalized with COVID-19 in Wisconsin, and 464 of them are in the ICU. Hospitals are under tremendous strain right now, due to COVID-19 and the Omicron variant,” DeSalvo says.
According to Public Health Madison and Dane County, 179 people are hospitalized in the county with the virus currently, with 39 people in intensive care as of 2PM this afternoon.
Another reason for the strain is a rise in positive cases among staff at the hospital.
The surge of COVID-19 cases is causing turbulence in Madison schools, too. Students in the Madison Metro School District returned to virtual learning today after having a last-minute extended winter break earlier this week. District officials say that pause was partly due to an impact in staffing levels, plus a limited supply of testing resources and protective equipment.
Earlier this afternoon, district officials announced a return to in-person learning next Monday.
Meanwhile, the state health department has just received its first shipment of Molnupiravir and Paxlovid: new antiviral pills recently approved by the FDA that can be used to minimize the effects of COVID-19.
Ajay Sethi is an epidemiologist and professor of population health sciences at UW-Madison. He says the pills are designed to be taken by those at higher risk of a severe infection while the case is still mild.
“There are two drugs, one is called Molnupiravir and the other is called Paxlovid, and they can be taken at home, they’re oral pills. They don’t require you to be in a hospital or health care facility set up with an IV, so that’s convenient. They need to be taken within 5 days of when symptoms appear, and of course, you have to be actually diagnosed with COVID,” Sethi says.
But the supply of the pills are limited. They’re reserved for those most at risk, and require a prescription.
Everyone WORT talked to today had one important thing to say: wear a mask, avoid gatherings, and get your vaccine and booster shot. Vaccination continues to be the best form of defense against the virus.
Photo courtesy: Chali Pittman / WORT Flickr