With a record number of hospitalizations and increasingly high levels of cases and deaths, Wisconsin opened an overflow facility at the Wisconsin State Fair Park for treating patients Wednesday. 

According to the Wisconsin State Journal, officials did not expect to bring patients into the facility until Thursday at the earliest. There will be no direct cost of care to the patients as the federal pandemic relief funds allocated to Wisconsin will cover the charges for the treatments at the facility, according to WSJ. 

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In Madison, neither SSM Health, St. Mary’s Hospital, UnityPoint Health-Meriter or the University of Wisconsin Hospital have immediate plans to send any patients to the overflow facility, as it is a part of their surge planning. But, they may need the facility at a later date. 

CEO of the alternate care facility Deb Standridge said to the WSJ the facility will accept COVID-19 patients between the ages of 18 and 70 who have been hospitalized for at least two days and have recovered to a more stable state.

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UW Health’s Medical Director of Infection Control Dr. Nasia Safdar said the new facility is currently equipped for 50 beds but has the capacity to scale up to as many as 500 beds if needed. Even though it is difficult to predict how bad the situation will get, Safdar said she does not expect the state will need to build another facility in the near future. 

According to the COVID Tracking Project, Wisconsin has the third-highest COVID-19 case rate in the country after North Dakota and South Dakota. The Wisconsin Department of Health Services reported a new high of 34 COVID-19 deaths and a record of 3279 new COVID-19 cases Oct 14. 

Katie Hardie

On the UW campus, the rate of positive cases at the University has been decreasing in the past few days, according to the COVID-19 Smart Restart Dashboard. As of Oct. 15, the seven day percent positive rate for students tested on campus was one percent. 

Safdar attributed the stark rise in cases and hospitalizations in Wisconsin to the increasing amount of physical movement, among other reasons. 

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“People in general are fatigued of living a way of life that doesn’t permit a lot of human interaction,” Safdar said. “We’ve seen that until very recently, physical movement in the state was approaching what it was before COVID. We know that physical movement is what drives the transmission of the virus in our population.”

Safdar said strictly enforcing the mask mandates and another potential lockdown may help curtail non-essential activities to mitigate the rising effects in Wisconsin. 

But just enforcing these mandates will not be enough to help things run smoothly, Safdar said. 

“I think that that would help provided that there was enough support given to the people that would suffer from it,” Safdar said. “If it was a requirement that businesses be severely curtailed, then some kind of financial support would need to be given so that people can continue to get through this. Without that, I think that despite a mandate it’s not likely that things will happen the way they need to.”