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Health officials: Rock County seeing heavy draw on hospital beds

JANESVILLE

In Rock County, health care officials say they are not seeing a surge in hospitalizations for COVID-19 infections—at least not one like the deluge of patients with coronavirus that hospitals saw this time last year.

Yet local hospital officials and an epidemiologist for Rock County say COVID-19 hospitalizations have been on an uptick here recently, and it comes as hospitals also are seeing an increase in people being admitted for non-COVID-19 illnesses, including seasonal flu and cold viruses.

Hospitals are further treating more people with severe complications from diabetes and heart and circulatory diseases—the types of chronic illnesses that health experts have linked to patients deferring routine health care during the pandemic.

Nick Zupan, epidemiologist for the Rock County Public Health Department, said that as of this week, hospitals countywide only have about 3% of intensive-care unit beds open and available and that all but about 6% of general hospital beds remain sewn up.

“The numbers aren’t great at this point in terms of the intensive care unit beds available. In a non-pandemic world, it would be very abnormal for any time of year,” Zupan said.

In addition to the typical cold and flu illnesses seen this time of year, local health care experts say they’re seeing notable increases in other viral illnesses such as respiratory syncytial virus. That disease, often referred to simply as RSV, causes mild cold symptoms in adults but can lead to more critical respiratory illness in young children.

County data shows that COVID-19 hospitalizations have numbered between 17 and 37 for all of November. Most patients have been those who aren’t vaccinated against the virus.

Zupan said those tallies are an increase from earlier this fall, though he acknowledged it is far fewer patients than the average of 65 or 70 Rock County residents a day who were hospitalized with COVID-19 in late November 2020, according to health department data.

He said based on past trends, the county might have to wait until two or three weeks after Thanksgiving to learn whether another uptick in local COVID-19 cases could burden local hospitals.

Meanwhile, data shows about 60% of Rock County residents are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Most people now being hospitalized for COVID-19 are unvaccinated, health care officials said.

“We’re starting to see elevated numbers of COVID patients in the hospital, and it makes it complicated when there are cardiac patients and people who have other kinds of illnesses,” Zupan said.

“Hospitals already were strained. There are limited resources, and then you add new cases of COVID on top of everything else.”

Omicron variant

According to news reports in the last few weeks, active COVID-19 cases have increased more than 16-fold in South Africa’s most densely populated sate, Gauteng—a region where health researchers believe a new coronavirus variant, omicron, originated.

The Associated Press reported it likely will take scientists days if not weeks to learn whether existing COVID-19 vaccines are effective at preventing infection by the omicron variant. It’s also not clear whether omicron could be more contagious or cause more severe disease compared to other variants.

The omicron variant has not officially been detected in the U.S. Another imported variant, delta, rapidly spread through some regions of the U.S. earlier this year.

Kathi Glenn, the chief nursing officer at SSM Health St. Mary’s Hospital-Janesville, said St. Mary’s gets calls daily from officials at other hospitals throughout Wisconsin and northern Illinois who are scrambling to find inpatient beds for people with serious, acute or chronic conditions.

Glenn wouldn’t divulge how many beds St. Mary’s has occupied in Janesville, but she said her hospital, which has a maximum of 50 beds, has not been in a position to accept overflow patients from outside the county or state.

She said St. Mary’s emergency room now has “double the amount of activity” compared to last winter—and the illnesses the unit is seeing range from heart attack patients to people complaining of COVID-19-like symptoms to chronic problems such as severe blood sugar problems and heart disease—problems health experts had predicted would begin to materialize after some people deferred doctor visits for months during the pandemic.

“When you don’t take care of your condition, your condition will take care of you,” Glenn said. “You can end up being much sicker, unfortunately. And often not just with one condition but multiple conditions.”

Glenn said that many of the emerging illnesses that are causing hospitalizations now, including COVID-19, can take weeks of hospitalization to treat. That presents a problem for hospitals that might face a sudden surge of influenza at some point in the winter.

Zupan and Glenn both said health officials continue to recommend wearing masks in public, especially in the coming weeks as cold and flu season kicks into high gear. Both also continue to recommend that those who have not gotten vaccinated against influenza and COVID-19, including children, do so.


Crime
Former Janesville man takes plea deal in domestic abuse case

A former Janesville man pleaded guilty Monday to misdemeanor disorderly conduct in a 2019 domestic assault incident involving a woman he knows.

In Rock County Court, Mark E. Mueller, 58, currently of Macomb, Illinois, waived his right to a jury trial and pleaded no contest to the misdemeanor. In exchange, two other counts—felony strangulation and suffocation and misdemeanor battery—were dropped by the prosecution.

As part of the plea, Mueller will spend no additional time in prison and instead be fined $200. The initial charges would have carried a maximum sentence of six years in prison with a possible fine of up to $10,000.

Mueller was reportedly teased by the victim for being a fan of the Minnesota Vikings football team, which allegedly prompted the altercation at the woman’s residence on Dec. 24, 2019.

According to a probable-cause statement filed by the Janesville Police Department, the woman stated Mueller became “very angry” after her remarks and that she tried to calm him down. Mueller then reportedly approached the woman, put his hands around her neck and throat and began strangling her.

The woman also told police Mueller stated he would “(expletive) kill her.” She said previous physical altercations with Mueller also included him threatening her life and another attempt to strangle her.

During Monday’s proceedings, Judge Barbary McCrory read Mueller a plea questionnaire to ensure his awareness of the details of the arrangement. McCrory said her sentence took into consideration Mueller’s relationship with the victim and a lack of any prior criminal record.

Shanna Knueppel, Mueller’s attorney, said PTSD and other mental health issues played a role in the “culmination of events” that seemed to “explode” in the moment.

“I think that both of them were triggered at one point in this,” Knueppel said. She said the 2019 incident was “an anomaly in their lives,” rather than something that happened with any frequency.

Mueller appeared to choke up while expressing remorse.

“I hope we can find some healing and move forward,” he said of himself and the victim.

Mueller has until Feb. 22, 2022, to pay his fine or he faces 90 days in prison and a possible $1,000 fine.


Obituaries and death notices for Nov. 30, 2021

Eldon C. Chrisinger

Eugene H. “Geno” Dampier

Robert C. Homan

Jeffrey W. “Jeff” Horner

Gregory S. Krueger

Reginald F. Lidbury

Shirley J. Lyth

Thomas P. Merritt Jr.

Paul Milatzo

Harold Darnell Peterson

Justin Paul Pfeiffer I

Karen Loretta Speer

Jame C. Stuhr

Jeffrey M. Weis


Janesville Parker’s Carter Herbst, left, grabs the head of Janesville Craig’s Hunter Klietz (stripes) during their 138-pound match Dec. 22. Wrestling is just one of the sports affected by the pandemic with a one-match maximum per week. The plans for a wrestling state tournament are still in the works, while other sports have finalized schedules.


Education
Beloit school officials support student offended by Janesville Parker students' 'gangster' attire

JANESVILLE

The Beloit School District released a statement Monday in support of one of its students who was offended by the “gangster-themed” outfits worn by several Janesville Parker High School students at a girls basketball game against Beloit Memorial High School on Nov. 23.

Mandi Franks, captain of Beloit Memorial’s girls varsity basketball team, wrote an email to Parker High School Athletic Director Clayton Kreger and Parker Principal Christoper Laue expressing her disappointment with how the Janesville Parker students were dressed at the game.

Parker students were seen wearing white tank tops, saggy pants exposing their underwear, backwards hats, durags and gold chains. In her email, Franks said the outfits mocked Black culture and made a joke out of gang violence which is a serious issue for many Beloit students.

“The deaths we mourn every day and our peers we watch go to prison every day are not jokes to us, and they should not be jokes to your students,” Franks wrote in her letter to Kreger before suggesting Parker students need “inclusion and diversity education.”

In a joint statement released Monday, Beloit School District Superintendent Dr. Dan Keyser and Joel Beard, activities and athletic director for the district, said they supported Franks’ courage.

“Mandi addressed what she saw and knew to be a culturally insensitive theme. This theme night showed a lack of awareness and understanding of what is happening in our community, region and country,” Keyser and Beard said.

They continued: “We are proud of the diversity within the School District of Beloit. We acknowledge the challenges and adversity that so many of our families of color are facing. As a district, we will continue to support and elevate the voices of those speaking for diversity, inclusion and equity. We are stronger together and as one voice.”

According to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, the racial makeup of Beloit School District students is 34.4% Hispanic, 33.4% white, 22.2% Black and 8.7% are two or more races.

Janesville School District students, meanwhile, are 70% white, 14.6% Hispanic, 7.4% two or more races, 5.4% Black and 2.3% Asian.

The Janesville School District has not made an official statement.

Hillary Gavan of Adams Publishing Group contributed to this story.


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