Wisconsin is the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the situation is poised to worsen. That was the message ThedaCare leaders shared during a virtual Community Leader Conversation the organization led today.
The impact affects urban and rural communities alike, said Frank Mellon, senior innovation executive for ThedaCare. The organization is seeing high levels of the virus in all nine counties it serves, with positivity rates ranging from 35 to 40 percent. Those numbers indicate both that the virus is widespread and that more testing is needed, said Mellon, who oversees data modeling for ThedaCare. In addition to increased spread, the death rate also is increasing.
Mellon projects the peak of case numbers will arrive in three to four weeks, and nine out of 10 individuals in the communities ThedaCare serves are still susceptible to catching the virus.
Dr. Raymond Georgen, a surgeon and regional trauma director for ThedaCare, said meeting the need for care is not just about having beds available but also having adequate staffing as well other resources like personal protective equipment and negative pressure rooms needed for the care of COVID-19 patients.
The coronavirus pandemic is unlike any other crisis society has ever seen, Georgen said. The philosophy of rushing to reach herd immunity is particularly frightening and dangerous, he said. Such an influx of patients would create a crisis situation for hospitals and health care providers.
Laura Anklam, a nurse and clinical team lead for ThedaCare, spoke of the toll the crisis is taking on front-line health care workers. She shared an experience she’d had of holding the hand of a dying man who couldn’t be with his wife at the time of his death. Though she’s surrounded by COVID-19 patients all day on the job, Anklam said she feels safer at work than in the community where people might refuse to wear masks at the grocery store or gas station.
John Bergstrom, chairman and CEO of Bergstrom Corp., said the situation also is negatively impacting employers. Right now, the organization has 69 employees out because they are either ill with COVID-19 or caring for someone who is.
Bergstrom related that he was on a call earlier this week with General Motors in which company officials there expressed concern to Bergstrom that Wisconsin, which is an important market for GM, is at the center of the COVID-19 crisis not just on a national level but also on a global scale. “That really hit home that we are really in a very challenging environment right now,” he said.
The automotive company is putting out educational video messages to employees as well as “pushing hard for them” to take proper precautions in their personal lives as well as in the workplace. Failure to take the situation seriously puts everyone in harm’s way, he said.
ThedaCare President and CEO Imran Andrabi said the crisis affects his organization as well as all of the other health care systems in the region.
“For anyone who thinks this is not real, come to ThedaCare. Walk with Laura. Walk with Dr. Georgen. See what’s going on, and it becomes really clear really quickly how real this is,” he said. “This virus is an equal-opportunity invader. It doesn’t differentiate between who you are, what your political views are, what you think, what you don’t think. All it’s looking for is the next host.”
Important actions to curtail community spread include wearing a mask that covers your mouth and nose when in public places, avoiding gatherings of more than 10 people, washing hands frequently and getting the flu shot.