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North-central Wis. hospitals seeing increase in younger, more severe COVID-19 hospitalizations

Published: Sep. 2, 2021 at 6:46 PM CDT
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WAUSAU, Wis. (WSAW) - Doctors in north-central Wisconsin are urging people to get vaccinated against COVID-19 as they continue to see increases in hospitalizations due to the disease.

Currently, both Marshfield Clinic and Aspirus hospitals across their systems have room to take both COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 related patients, but those with COVID-19 are growing. Over Marshfield Clinic’s nine facilities, there are 53 patients being treated for COVID-19. That is about a third of what the health system had in mid-November at the height of the pandemic and it is a stark increase from the daily average of about two patients during the months of June and July this year.

As of Thursday morning, Aspirus Wausau Hospital alone has nine COVID-19 patients in its intensive care unit and 12 patients in the general COVID unit for a total of 21 patients. Comparing the numbers from this past August to August of 2020, Aspirus Wausau Hospital saw 13 more hospitalizations and 85 more people come to the emergency department who tested positive than last year.

Department of Health Services data for the north-central region shows 89.9% of hospital beds are in use and 92.6% of ICU beds are full. The current weekly average of people hospitalized with COVID-19 is 86 patients in the region, 16.8% of which are on ventilators. That data shows the north-central region’s number of hospitalized patients has grown by 27% over two weeks.

Both Marshfield Clinic and Aspirus representatives said they are also seeing more younger patients, generally people under age 65, but more specifically those in their 20s and 30s. They are also noticing that these patients have more severe cases of the disease.

“I’m not sure if that is secondary to the Delta variants or what exactly is driving that, but certainly it seems to be getting more severe disease in younger people,” Dr. David Werner, an Aspirus Wausau hospitalist said.

Kate Maguire, Marshfield Clinic Health System’s director of infection prevention said they recently had someone in their 40s die from COVID-19. They also have already seen three deaths in September and it is only the second day of the month. Werner said while he continues to see patients die from the disease, he has not noticed an increase in the rate of deaths.

Both systems said the vast majority of people who end up in the hospital are not vaccinated, meaning one or two people may be fully or partially vaccinated. Maguire noted vaccinated patients have less severe cases and often are able to go home faster. She also said while unvaccinated individuals may survive, patients can end up with lasting impacts.

“Even having oxygen for a portion of your time outside of the hospital, let’s say a week, two weeks, a month, that vastly can impact your life and your quality of life, potentially your livelihood,” Maguire said.

Positive cases, generally, are also increasing. DHS data shows the levels are comparable to mid-September last year. Maguire said Marshfield Clinic’s positivity rate is about 13%, up from 1-2% earlier in the summer.

While the rise may parallel last year’s trajectory, Maguire and Werner said this time the vaccine is available. They encourage those who have not been vaccinated to get their shot(s) and speak with their doctor to get accurate information if they have concerns.

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