COVID-19 in Our Own Backyard: Local doctors speak candidly on the current state of the pandemic

The authors: Dr. Amy Falk, pediatrician (left) and Dr. Lisa Olson, family medicine specialist, practice at Aspirus Doctors Clinic in Wisconsin Rapids.

Submitted to OnFocus – By Aspirus Doctors Clinic physicians, Dr. Amy Falk, pediatrics and Dr. Lisa Olson, family medicine:

As local doctors who really care about our community, we wanted to provide a candid state of affairs on the COVID-19 pandemic that is now right in our backyard. In compiling this update, we have joined forces with the Aspirus health system, the Wisconsin Rapids Public Schools system, and the Wood County Health Department.

COVID-19 is very real, and not going anywhere anytime soon. Our country, and specifically the state of Wisconsin, is one of the worst in the world in terms of cases and death tolls. While many people get a mild cold or have no symptoms, there are severe downstream effects. Each and every infection likely leads to the loss of lives, through spread to vulnerable people. Those who survive, even healthy young people, can have long lasting consequences like chronic fatigue or blood clots. This virus is very unpredictable in who it affects most severely, which worries us.

Our local hospital is filling up with COVID-19 patients. As of Wednesday, we had eight people in the regular hospital unit with COVID-19, struggling to breathe. There were ANOTHER four patients with COVID-19 in the intensive care unit – some needing tubes and machines to help them breathe. (For perspective, there are a total of eight ICU rooms in our hospital.) I can hear you thinking, “Twelve COVID-19 patients doesn’t seem like a lot.” Here’s why that is a big number for our small community – because everything else is still happening: strokes, surgeries, heart attacks, car accidents, diabetes, heart failure, dehydration, etc. These patients need hospital beds too. Very soon, we will run out of room for both people with COVID-19 as well as people with any other medical issue requiring hospital care. The larger hospital in our system has had to open up multiple additional units to care for COVID-19 patients. In many places, elective procedures just can’t happen due to staffing and PPE issues. This means people who may be in pain – but not life-threatening pain – have to suffer longer. The emergency department has had record-setting numbers of people seeking care, many with COVID-19. This means longer wait times and running out of places to care for patients. Do you remember what happened in Italy and New York early in the pandemic? That’s what’s happening here. Now. In Wisconsin Rapids.

In addition to running out of room, we are running low on staff. If doctors, nurses, lab people, therapists or anyone else who works at the hospital gets sick, we miss at least a few days of work. If we get COVID-19, we are out for at least 10 days. Think about how quickly that will add up to staffing issues. Even if we had infinite space to put sick people, we are running out of people to care for them. This is not unique to our area – it’s happening all over the country.

From a public health standpoint, things are not going well. According to their dashboard (link below), Wood County has 767 active cases right now, one more death bringing the toll to 16, and a percent positive rate of a whopping 27-40%. These metrics are awful. The cases are spread all over our county. We have been working closely with our public health officials, who say people are lying about who they have been in contact with and are becoming increasingly rude and disrespectful to those who are doing such important work to help keep the spread in check. Wisconsinites are good people and polite to a fault. This is not who we are. What’s going on?

Our community as a whole is struggling; but there is a small bright spot in our midst – our schools. They are doing an amazing job and trying so very hard. Many elementary schools are still able to do five-day-a week, in-person school – even 11 weeks into the school year. The larger secondary schools are doing a hybrid model. Dr. Falk is studying masking compliance across five school districts in Wood County, and the kids have been phenomenal. Compliance is well over 90%, but absences are shooting up because kids are catching the virus outside of school, through community exposure. As of November 10, the Wisconsin Rapids Public Schools, which includes well over 5,000 kids and many staff, has only seen 114 total cases in 11 weeks since the start of school. There are currently only 35 active cases. There have been only two cases that were possibly linked to in-school spread. All other cases have been contracted in the community. Think about that: Wood County regularly sees 100 cases IN ONE DAY. It’s very frustrating that even though schools are doing so well, they may have to close due to the large number of quarantines because of exposure or illness contracted from the community.

Kids deserve a good education. While online learning is better than no learning, it simply does not work as well. It is very clear from the literature that significant damage is done when kids are forced to learn online. There are many children who rely on our schools for safe adults, good food, special services, and childcare. Not to mention the fact that about 20% of WRPS kids do not have access to broadband internet at home. Around 1,500 kids qualify for free or reduced lunch through school, and we worry very much about them. The simple fact is that our society and our kids need in-person schools and our community is NOT doing them any favors by not taking COVID-19 seriously.

Bottom line: it’s time to wake up, Wood County. Even if you get infected and don’t think you’ll become very ill, this is much bigger than just you. What about everyone you come in contact with? What about your loved ones? What about theirs? It’s not your “right” to go about your life, doing what you want to do, while endangering everyone else. To beat this thing, we need to band together and work as a team. Like it or not, COVID-19 is real, it is here, and unless we make serious changes, it’s not going anywhere anytime soon.

Most people want to do the right thing. A lot of people are confused. With conflicting information, what should we all do? Our ask is simple:

  • Socially distance as much as possible. This means avoiding indoor eating or drinking, parties and social gatherings like Thanksgiving and Christmas.
  • Wear a mask, covering both your nose and mouth, when in public.
  • Work with our health department and disclose contacts to the best of your knowledge. An inconvenience to you could mean life or death for someone else.
  • Get tested, even if it just feels “like a cold.”

Even though these things aren’t complicated, they aren’t always easy. It’s hard to stand up to people you respect or go against what your group is doing. In times like these, we need people to be brave and stand up for what is right. Be brave. Be strong. Do the right thing – mask up and help us fight this. And for goodness sake: do a Zoom Thanksgiving instead.

Where to get tested

The Aspirus website has an entire section filled with COVID-19 information and resources, including a list of testing options. Visit aspirus.org/coronavirus-covid19 for details on the many testing options available. They include:

  • The MyAspirus app – the app includes a COVID-19 symptom checker and enables you to schedule an appointment at the Aspirus testing site of your choice. If you don’t already have a MyAspirus account, visit myaspirus.org to sign up.
  • The Aspirus COVID-19 Call Center Hotline – 1-844-568-0701 or 1-715-843-1454. The hotline is staffed 7 am to 7 pm weekdays and 8 am to 5 pm weekends. Please note that the hotline often experiences high call volumes; so the MyAspirus app may be faster and easier.
  • Community/National Guard COVID-19 testing events – the list on aspirus.org/coronavirus-covid19 is continuously updated to reflect testing events throughout the Aspirus service area.

Sources:

Wood County COVID Dashboard:

WRPS COVID Dashboard: https://www.wrps.org/district/covid-19-dashboard.cfm

The Lancet article about the mental health effects of closing schools: https://www.thelancet.com/…/PIIS2352-4642(20…/fulltext

Wisconsin chapter of the American Academy of Peds on school reopening and its importance:

https://www.wiaap.org/aap-updates-expands-guidance-for…/

Reference to WRPS’ students access to internet: (https://nces.ed.gov/Programs/Edge/ACSDashboard/5517070)

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News Desk
Author: News Desk

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