Wisconsin facing hospital bed shortage as COVID-19 cases climb

Wisconsin's hospital system has nearly reached capacity for its intensive care unit (ICU) beds as health care workers struggle to care for COVID-19 patients amid a surge of new infections reported in the state.

ICU beds in Wisconsin are 96 percent occupied, according to the state's Department of Health Services. From Nov. 24 to Dec. 7, patients in the ICU climbed more than 10 percent, with 399 patients reported in the ICU on Dec. 6. More than 1,500 COVID-19 patients were reported in the hospital system.

Hospital staff are calling it a crisis as they reach capacity limits.

"We are full. Period," Eric Conley, the CEO of Milwaukee’s Froedtert Hospital said at a forum, according to Wisconsin Public Radio. "It's really impacting, impeding care for those patients who are not COVID that need the care getting in because getting to our beds is just very, very hard."

Wisconsin has reached an all-time high of daily confirmed COVID-19 cases, reporting nearly 4,000 cases on Dec. 8 for a total of 905,850. Cases started climbing after a drop in July, when around 100 cases were reported daily.

Gov. Tony EversTony EversWisconsin state GOP lawmaker calls for party to 'cheat like Democrats' to win elections Sen. Ron Johnson: Straight from the horse's mouth Wisconsin GOP bill would count prior COVID-19 infection as immunity MORE (D) is reportedly calling for 100 FEMA workers to assist hospitals, while 60 National Guard members have been called in to help as nursing assistants, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.

Evers and state health officials are still urging all residents to get vaccinated, with 59 percent of the state population receiving at least one dose.

"If you aren't vaccinated against COVID-19, your chances of ending up in the hospital are nine times higher than someone who is fully vaccinated," said Karen Timberlake, the secretary-designee for the health department, in a message to the state. "With so many hospitals and healthcare workers already stressed by caring for COVID-19 patients, it becomes increasingly difficult to treat patients for other reasons."

Evers called attention to the omicron variant, a new strain of the virus that has alarmed health officials since its detection last month in South Africa. Wisconsin has confirmed three cases of the new variant, and Evers said the state is still learning how dangerous it is.

"As we learn more about this new variant and how easily it spreads, it's crucial that all Wisconsinites continue to practice good public health safety measures," he said on Thursday. 

Other states, including Maine and Michigan, are also struggling with record numbers of COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations.