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Wisconsin could see a peak in new COVID-19 cases by May 22. Researchers expect a surge of cases to occur over the next week or two and last up to four months, according to a report by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME).

The University of Washington School of Medicine, U.S. hospital systems, and state governments asked the IHME to determine when the COVID-19 (novel coronavirus) would overwhelm the ability of those hospitals to care for patients. Whitehouse staff have also referred to the IHME model on Meet the Press.

“Our estimated trajectory of COVID-19 deaths assumes continued and uninterrupted vigilance by the general public, hospital and health workers, and government agencies,” said Dr. Christopher Murray, Director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington’s School of Medicine. 

CORONAVIRUS, COVID-19, Racine, Wisconsin, Racine County

What could Wisconsin be in for?

If Wisconsin residents follow Governor Tony Evers’ “safer at home” order, the number of hospital beds needed will likely not exceed the total available beds. Hospitals here have 5,364 available beds. Researchers anticipate the state needing 1,358 hospital beds. But it could top out to 3,100 beds.

This trend, however, does not hold true with ICU beds. The IHME report forecasted Wisconsin would likely need 202 ICU beds during the peak. But they only have 172 beds. It also noted a need for 109 ventilators.

The IHME report forecasted 853 deaths by early August. With that said, things could change, and quickly.


“The trajectory of the pandemic will change – and dramatically for the worse – if people ease up on social distancing or relax with other precautions. We encourage everyone to adhere to those precautions to help save lives,” Murray said.

The report did not break down the impact on individual counties or communities.

READ MORE: Trump extends social distancing guidelines through April 30 as coronavirus outbreak escalates 

Metro areas hardest hit with COVID-19 cases, for now

Of the 16,550 people tested in Wisconsin for the COVID-19 (novel coronavirus), 1,112 people have tested positive. State officials also reported 13 deaths. Racine County — which has 200,000 people — reported 17 cases and no deaths. Milwaukee County, however, reported 565 cases and five deaths. It has a population of 950,000.

Wisconsin, COVID-19, cases
SOURCE: Wisconsin Department of Health Services

Whitehouse coronavirus response coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx referred to the IHME report on Meet the Press on Sunday. She highlighted how the disease had infiltrated metro regions at a faster rate than non-metro areas.

“No state and no metro area will be spared,” Birx said.

The key component to slowing the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19): get the hospitals what they need. Hospitals need ventilators, personal protective equipment, and testing supplies. The state also needs to be able to move resources to those hospitals that need it.

“The sooner we react, the sooner the states and the metro areas react…then we’ll be able to move forward together and protect the most Americans,” she said.

But preparing for that surge has been a daunting task.

Strategies to flatten the COVID-19 curve

To help flatten the curve, though, hospitals and first responders have called for donations of personal protective equipment, including surgical masks, face shiels, gloves, gowns, and N95 respirators. China made most of that equipment. So when the virus took hold there, the government shutdown distribution outside their borders.

Minnesota-based 3M had ramped up production of the N95 masks, but they are locked into contracts with distributors.

“So the distributors are still trying to distribute and sell to the different clinics and hospitals around the country,” the spokesperson said. “There have been bidding wars for that stuff; it’s really kind of a shock.”

Part of limiting the spread of the virus includes: Keeping people who do not have severe symptoms that require medical attention out of hospitals and clinics, using telehealth, and creating drive-through testing sites.

The IHME report called on states to mitigate the gap quickly between needed healthcare services and capacity.

“These are urgently needed given that peak volumes are estimated to be only three weeks away,” according to the report. “The estimated excess demand on hospital systems is predicated on the enactment of social distancing measures in all states that have not done so already within the next week and maintenance of these measures throughout the epidemic, emphasizing the importance of implementing, enforcing, and maintaining these measures to mitigate hospital system overload and prevent deaths.” 

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Denise Lockwood has an extensive background in traditional and non-traditional media. She has written for, the Milwaukee Business Journal, Milwaukee Magazine and the Kenosha News.