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A member of the Wisconsin National Guard medical team uses a nasal swab to collect a sample from Jill Cooley during the free COVID-19 drive-thru testing at Blackhawk Technical College.

Local hospitals still have beds to treat any kind of patient, but having enough staff to attend to patients is becoming a challenge, hospital officials said Thursday.

As COVID-19 cases continue to surge across the state, some health care systems are reporting being at 100% capacity, and some are sending patients to a field hospital in West Allis.

Rock County hospitals have space for new patients, but officials there are becoming increasingly concerned about whether they have enough staff to care for them.

Officials from Mercyhealth, SSM Health, Beloit Health System, and Edgerton Hospital and Health Services are pleading for people to take COVID-19 safety precautions so health care systems don’t become overwhelmed.

As of its most recent update Tuesday, the Rock County Public Health Department’s reopening dashboard says “hospitals report critical staffing shortages.”

The county’s goal is to have no more than five health care workers sick with COVID-19 over a 14-day period. However, data shows 12 new cases of COVID-19 were reported in health care workers in the last 14 days as of Tuesday.

Health care workers are particularly vulnerable to becoming infected with the coronavirus because of frequent interaction with the public, specifically sick people.

When the pandemic hit in spring, the community saw an outpouring of support for health care workers and campaigns urging people to stay safe and “flatten the curve” so workers and hospitals did not become overwhelmed.

Six months later, COVID-19 is more prevalent than ever statewide and in Rock County, but much of the public support via TV ads, social media, posters or other acts of public kindness has dwindled, a side effect of what officials call “COVID fatigue.”

Rock County data shows 46% of intensive care unit beds and 66% of ventilators were available as of Tuesday.

“Our challenge is the same as most, and that is staffing,” said Trish Reed, spokeswoman for Mercyhealth, in an email to The Gazette. “Ensuring our staff remains healthy is a priority, and we need everyone in our community to help us with this.”

SSM Health St. Mary’s Hospital-Janesville is OK on staffing right now, “but the situation is becoming pressing,” SSM Health spokeswoman Erica Mathis said in an email to The Gazette.

St. Mary’s is part of a regional plan within SSM Health to shift staff to other areas if necessary, Mathis said.

“A large number of COVID-19 patients have been admitted for inpatient care at SSM Health St. Mary’s Hospital-Janesville over the past several weeks,” said Eric Thornton, hospital president. “Beds currently remain available, but our inpatient census is high and ever-changing.”

Edgerton Hospital and Health Services still has capacity for new patients but is experiencing delays in transferring severely ill and high-risk patients because other hospitals lack availability of ICU and step-down beds, said Alison Hanaman, emergency department manager.

Beloit Memorial Hospital has expanded its COVID-19 unit to 32 beds to keep up with demand, according to the Beloit Daily News.

Beloit Health System currently has 13 staff members out of work because of COVID-19 infection or exposure, the newspaper reported.

The number of COVID-19 hospitalizations dipped Thursday for the first time since Oct. 29. The decrease was slight, however, from 72 to 71 hospitalizations, according to county data.

One new death was reported Thursday, bringing the county’s total to 58.

Rock County has 2,274 active and confirmed cases of COVID-19, up 22 from Wednesday.

On Thursday, 154 new cases were reported for an all-time total of 7,114. At least 4% of Rock County residents have been infected with the coronavirus at some point since March.

Health officials suspect some cases are never reported because people do not show symptoms or do not get tested.

Of test results reported Thursday, 35% were positive. Any positivity rate higher than 10% is concerning, epidemiologist Nick Zupan has said.

State officials are urging people not to gather for Thanksgiving and to stay at home unless absolutely necessary.

Gov. Tony Evers signed an executive order this week urging people to stay home. The order has no enforcement mechanism.

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