Hospitalizations decline statewide; doctors say too soon to know full Thanksgiving impact

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MADISON (WKOW) — COVID-19 hospitalizations across Wisconsin have decreased by nearly a third compared to the mid-November peak. Still, the chief quality officer at UW Health said Monday it was too soon to know just how much the virus spread through Thanksgiving gatherings, which would eventually show up in the state’s hospitals.

“Fewer hospitalizations is good for all of us,” said Dr. Jeff Pothof. “Those of us that have COVID, it’s good news because it means more hospitals likely have some capacity to take care of COVID patients.”

Pothof said the decline in hospitalizations also would relieve some of the strain on particularly stressed healthcare systems. He said the decrease could allow some hospitals to move forward with patients’ elective, non-emergency procedures.

COVID-19 hospitalizations peaked at 2,277 on November 17, according to the Wisconsin Hospital Association. As of Monday, that number had fallen to 1,566, a 31 percent decrease.

New cases, however, had begun to creep upward. The 7-day average of new cases was around 6,500 in mid-November; it dropped to 3,600 at the start of December before moving back closer to 4,000 according to the Department of Health Services dashboard.

“This week and next week will be big weeks to see what really happened over the holiday,” Pothof said. “Are those gains we were starting to make just before the holiday be erased by spikes post-holiday?”

Pothof said he was encouraged that, thus far, the post-Thanksgiving increase in Wisconsin was not as sharp as what was occurring in some other states.

“(The decline is) not the national narrative,” Pothof said. “If we look around the country, we are starting to see indications that the Thanksgiving holiday is starting to drive case volumes up.”

While he waited to see whether a post-Thanksgiving surge would show up in the coming days, Pothof said the current decline in hospitalizations gave some overworked frontline staff, worn down from overtime and/or extra shifts, somewhat of a breather.

“For some of these health systems, this is a really big deal because it’s not like we were operating in normal times and just at high capacity,” Pothof said. “A lot of these health systems had exceeded their capacity; they were doing unusual things to try to meet capacity.”

Pothof warned any progress in flattening the curve and bringing down the rolling average of new cases would be lost if too many people began gathering too closely, too soon.

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