ThedaCare limits visitors, pauses non-emergency surgeries as COVID-19 omicron cases surge in Fox Valley

·4 min read

APPLETON – Surging cases of the COVID-19 omicron variant have led hospital leaders to once again limit visitors and pause non-urgent elective surgeries.

ThedaCare administrators and doctors told community members Friday during a video conference that record numbers of cases are being reported each day, and beds in the intensive care unit are almost completely full.

Meanwhile, 55% of Fox Valley residents are vaccinated and only 25% have gotten a booster shot.

The health care system’s projections show the increase in cases — which has been as high as 2,000 new cases in recent days in the region — has reached a peak but will likely remain high for at least three more weeks.

There are also likely far more cases because the omicron variant causes less-severe symptoms, prompting some people not to get tested and preventing those cases from being reported.

“The community and the hospitals will feel a long plateau,” said Frank Mellon, senior innovation executive. “The implication there is we have to be on alert, and we have to have all of our resources engaged for a long period of time. That’s hard on patients, it’s hard on the community and it’s hard on the hospital and team members.”

More: Fox Valley hospitals reaching 'breaking point' as COVID-19 omicron variant spreads, beg community to get vaccinated, boosted

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Visitors for COVID-19 patients are now limited to pre-approved, end-of-life circumstances, and non-COVID-19 patients can only have one visitor during normal hours. One parent or guardian can accompany a minor or a patient with a medical need, and wearing a mask is always required.

Chief Nursing Officer Jackie Anhalt said hospital leaders recognize the sensitivity to limiting visitors, but it’s the right thing to do given the circumstances.

“We do have cases where we know that visitors have brought in omicron,” she said. “They don’t know it, and we’ve had a record number of illnesses. It’s not that there are no visitors, but we are being very judicious in who comes and why.”

Anhalt said the restrictions are in part to keep hospital staff healthy because when COVID-19 spreads through a family, they can miss significant time at work. She added that hospitals are also dealing with supply chain issues, like other industries, limiting personal protective equipment and medical supplies.

To lessen the impact on hospitals, administrators are asking the community to get vaccinated, boosted and to wear a mask in public places. While Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines are changing, it doesn’t mean people should dismiss them. The science on the disease is constantly evolving.

“CDC guidelines remain the universal gold standard among most health leaders and systems in the country,” said David Brooks, medical director of infectious disease. “We have to keep adjusting, follow the science and keep getting the message out to vaccinate. We’re in the middle of it, the hospitals are strained.”

Doctors said another critical element to fighting the surge is to get tested for COVID-19. They noted several options, including testing centers around the community and free at-home test kits from the federal government. Treatment options are more effective earlier in the infection, Brooks said.

While monoclonal antibodies and antiviral drugs like Molnupiravir, Paxlovid and Remdesivir have proven effective in treating COVID-19, doctors stressed the importance of getting vaccinated and boosted.

“You can’t rely on just the antibodies treatments,” said Mark Cockely, chief clinical officer. “They’re in limited supply, and they’re going to be used for people who are at higher risk (…) they’re not as effective as being vaccinated.”

ThedaCare President and CEO Imran Andrabi noted that healthcare staff has been working through the pandemic for nearly 700 days. While he appreciates gratitude from the community, he pleaded with community members to follow guidelines that are based on the latest science.

“Every patient that ends up in the ICU, every death that happens, we have to think about could that have been prevented rom happening in the first place,” Andrabi said. “The best thank you that we can give to healthcare workers is to get vaccinated, get the booster, get tested when you need to get tested.”

Contact Jake Prinsen at jprinsen@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter at @PrinsenJake.

This article originally appeared on Appleton Post-Crescent: COVID-19 omicron: Fox Valley ThedaCare limits visitors, surgeries

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