MADISON – Citing recent surges in COVID-19 patient hospitalizations, state officials on Wednesday announced that an Alternate Care Facility (ACF) would open within the next week.

Public Health Madison and Dane County employees and members of the Wisconsin National Guard operate a drive-through COVID-19 testing facility at the Alliant Energy Center in Madison, Wis., on May 13, 2020.

The ACF, located at State Fair Park in West Allis, has space for 530 patients. State officials constructed the facility in the spring to alleviate crowding caused by COVID-19 cases at area hospitals. But the state never needed to use the facility until now. 

Gov. Tony Evers and Department of Health Services Secretary-designee Andrea Palm told reporters at a media briefing that as of yesterday (Tuesday), there were 853 COVID-19 hospitalizations statewide, an increase of 71 over the day before.  

“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 said in a news release. 

House Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) called on Wisconsinites to “cooperate and collaborate” to fight the pandemic.

“The surge of cases and hospitalizations is real,” Vos said. “We need everyone to work together to contain the virus: follow CDC guidelines, wear a mask, wash your hands, and maintain social distancing. I applaud the efforts at the local and county levels for their targeted measures and thank the scores of health care workers on the front lines of the pandemic.”

In Racine County, the numbers area also on the rise, said Mark Schaaf, spokesperson for Racine County.

“It’s clear that COVID-19 is surging in Racine County and across the state,” he said. With or without an order, and regardless of any potential legal challenge, it’s crucial that residents maintain social distancing, wear a face covering in public, stay home when sick, and practice good hygiene so that we can protect our fellow community members.”

Read more: Symptoms and Kenosha health officials encourage compliance with Evers’ order.

Hospitalizations surge

Palm reported that hospitals are now overwhelmed and fear reaching capacity because of a spike in COVID-19 cases in September. Hospitalizations for COVID-19 have nearly tripled between Sept. 7 (289 patients) and this week (853 patients). 

COVID-19 hospitalizations more than quadrupled in the Fox Valley, Northeast, Northwest, Northcentral, and Western regions of the state. Hospital leaders in Green Bay, Appleton, Neenah, and Wausau are reporting intensive care units (ICUs) at capacity, transfers of patients to other facilities, and critical staffing shortages. The governor will open the ACF in West Allis at their urging. 

“Our hospital system is strained and in some areas of the state reaching capacity and at risk of being overwhelmed,” said Palm. “And as COVID-19 cases rise, hospitals across the state are experiencing critical staffing shortages – largely due to staff members experiencing infection or exposure to the virus in their communities. This is why we need every Wisconsinite to follow our recommendations and take this seriously. When hospitals are at capacity, it doesn’t matter if you need care because of COVID-19 or a heart attack. We have to disrupt transmission so Wisconsinites can get the care they need.” 

This alternative care facility is not a hospital and will not accept walk-in patients. The facility will coordinate with healthcare systems to admit patients who still need care but are not seriously ill in need of hospital-level care. It will serve as a transitional facility to offer oxygen and medical care for COVID-19 patients who still need support in their recovery. This facility aims 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.  

Read more about the alternative care facility at Wisconsin State Fair Park.  

Vos takes issues with Evers’ order

On Tuesday, Evers announced restrictions on public gatherings and more assistance for small businesses, a move heavily criticized by Vos.

“With respect to Emergency Order #3, the governor and secretary-designee may have good intentions but they’re disregarding the law as set forth in the state Supreme Court ruling, Legislature v. Palm. We are confident that if challenged, a Wisconsin judge would find this order invalid as an unpromulgated rule. We are asking Secretary-Designee Palm to submit an emergency rule immediately to the Joint Committee for Review of Administrative Rules as required by law. 

“With cases once again rising, it’s clear the governor’s go-it-alone, grab bag approach to responding to the coronavirus has been a failure. We must work together in order to keep our businesses open and our citizens safe. We would like to request a meeting with the governor as soon as possible to discuss answers to deal with the virus, especially solutions that don’t result in families going bankrupt and thousands being added to the unemployment lines.”

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

Paul Holley is retired from careers in journalism, public relations and marketing but not from life. These days, he pretty much writes about what he feels like writing. You may contact him directly at:...