COVID-19 spread strains Oconto County health care system

Hospital and public health officials issue joint plea to observe guidelines
NEW Media Staff

Faced with what they described as “significant uncontrolled spread of COVID-19 in Oconto County,” the CEOs of the county’s two hospitals joined with the county’s Public Health Division to plead with residents to observe precautions against the virus. These precautions, as outlined in a joint press release, include wearing masks, practicing social distancing and following other guidelines regarding hygiene and quarantines.

The state Department of Health Services recorded 500 new positive tests for the coronavirus in the first 10 days of October, an average of 50 per day and roughly equivalent to the number of new positives during the entire month of September.

The continued rise is straining the health care system, said Chris Brabant, president and CEO of HSHS St. Clare Memorial Hospital; James Dietsche, CEO of Bellin Health Oconto Hospital; and Debra Konitzer, county public health officer.

The hospitals have activated their emergency plans. When the announcement was made, only 17% of hospital beds were available in a seven-county region that includes Oconto County.

“It is extremely important that our communities remain vigilant in their actions and how they contribute to the spread of COVID-19,” Brabant said. “If you are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 or have been exposed, please get tested at one of the testing sites in our county and not the emergency room. This is one of the ways to help control the spread.”

As a result of the rapid surge of cases, the public health system is operating at crisis capacity and is no longer able to reach out to all positive cases in a timely manner, Konitzer said. In addition, public health officials are no longer able to call the contacts of the positive cases to give isolation and quarantine guidelines, which hampers efforts to contain the virus.

The health care officials said masking is an easy strategy to help stop the spread.

“We know masking works, and it’s a simple way to protect yourself and those around you,” said Dietsche. “It’s an important way to show caring for others, and to help ensure businesses can stay open and our communities can continue to thrive.”

They called for local residents to work together as a community and protect each other.

“We cannot ignore the science.” Konitzer said. “We can prevent deaths. We can keep our family and friends out of hospitals. We can all do our part to protect each other.”

Among their recommendations:

• Indoors, do not gather with people with whom you do not live. This means stay home as much as possible; avoid parties, reunions, weddings and other gatherings.

• Outdoors, limit gatherings to 10 people or fewer while maintaining 6 feet of space from each other and wearing masks.

• Wear a face mask while in public.

• Keep 6 feet of space from others while in public.

• Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.

• If you have COVID-19 symptoms, get tested and stay home while waiting for test results.

• Follow isolation and quarantine guidelines.

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