Speaking alongside health officials on Wednesday, Evers announced the field hospital would open next week on the state fairgrounds outside Milwaukee. Built months ago, in anticipation of an expected surge in infection, the facility had sat disused until now.
According to the state Department of Health Services, just 16 percent of Wisconsin’s hospital beds were available as of Tuesday afternoon. Some 853 patients infected with the coronavirus are hospitalized across the state, the highest number since the pandemic began, and 216 of those are in intensive care. The state is third in the nation for new cases per capita.
“We hoped this day wouldn’t come, but unfortunately, Wisconsin is in a much different, more dire place today and our healthcare systems are beginning to become overwhelmed by the surge of COVID-19 cases,” Evers told reporters on Wednesday.
A statement from his office clarified that “the goal of this facility is to transition Covid-19 patients who are less ill out of hospitals and reserve hospital beds for patients who are more ill and in need of hospital-level care.”
The 530-bed hospital set to finally open in West Allis was built in April by the US Army Corps of Engineers as governors across the US panicked in the face of catastrophic predictions of widespread death. While more than 200,000 Americans have died with the virus since the outbreak began, only a few states’ healthcare systems have approached saturation thus far.
The facility will not treat walk-ins, the state Department of Health stated, clarifying that only patients who had been hospitalized elsewhere for “at least 24 to 48 hours” would “qualify” to be transported by ambulance to the field hospital. Volunteers, state workers, and National Guard members will staff the facility, which will not allow visitors.
Not all areas of Wisconsin are affected equally by coronavirus. The southeast region has largely been spared the surge in cases affecting other counties, and has attempted to take in patients from the various hot spots – something some experts have frowned on, saying it increases risk to both patients and doctors.
Wisconsin courts are currently weighing a lawsuit against Evers’ statewide mask mandate, which requires face coverings to be worn in enclosed spaces. The mandate has been extended to November 21.
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