The Wisconsin Department of Health is forced to add a “critical” COVID activity level as hospitals reach 90 percent of their capacity.

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The Wisconsin Health Department added a new category “critically high” to describe the activity of coronavirus cases in the state, as hospitals were running at 90 percent capacity.

The Department of Health of Wisconsin (DHS) added a new category of “critically high” to its Disease Activity Dashboard on Wednesday “to give Wisconsinites a better picture of the impact of COVID-19 in our state in the midst of an increase in activity,” according to a press release.

DHS reported 7,497 new positive coronavirus cases on Thursday, bringing the total number of cases in the state to 293,388. More than 2,500 people have now died as a result of the virus.

While there has been an increase in new cases and hospitalizations virtually throughout the United States, Wisconsin has been the fastest unraveling. In early September, Wisconsin had an average of about 700 cases per day. This week, according to the New York Times, there were an average of more than 6,000 cases per day.

“Far too many of our communities are in a terrible situation,” said DHS Deputy Secretary Julie Willems Van Dijk in the press release. “To put these new data into the right perspective Wisconsin now has more average cases per day than New York City at the peak of its rise last spring.

The new “critically high” category measures case activity relative to the population of an area. Its minimum threshold of 1,000 cases per 100,000 population over the past two weeks is almost three times higher than the old top category, which was considered “very high” at 350 cases per 100,000 population, local channel WMTV reported.

This week, however, each of Wisconsin’s 72 counties has at least doubled the “very high” minimum, according to WMTV. There are only seven counties that currently fail to meet the “critically high” designation, and six of them are in an upward trend of new cases, suggesting they may soon make the list, WMTV reported.

The nationwide case rate is 1,310.6 cases per 100,000 population, also in the “critically high” category. This number has increased by 24 percent in the past two weeks, according to DHS.

“Because of these critically high rates of illness, public health services are unable to make sufficient contact with traces, hospital beds are filled with patients with COVID-19, and too many families in Wisconsin are losing loved ones to this virus,” Willems Van Dihk said in the press release.

Around 90 percent of hospitals across the country are currently working to capacity, according to DHS. The state has a total of 11,093 hospital beds, but only 1,136 are still immediately available. Health care officials have sounded the alarm and warned residents that doctors may soon be forced to make a decision on which patients should be given priority.

“We are very close to a turning point,” said Ryan Westergaard, Chief Medical Officer of DHS, during an event hosted by Wisconsin Health News on Wednesday. “This could get a lot worse very quickly, and that turning point will be reached when we are no longer able to save everyone who gets seriously ill.

The Mayo Clinic Health System, which operates more than two dozen hospitals and clinics in northwest Wisconsin, has no more beds available, system officials said Tuesday.

ProHealth Care’s hospitals in Waukesha and Oconomowoc – two cities west of Milwaukee – have been running at full capacity over the past two to three weeks, according to Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Wisconsin’s Democratic Governor, Tony Evers, issued an executive order on Tuesday that advised residents to “stay home to save lives.

“Wisconsin, this is serious. This crisis is urgent. It took us 7.5 months to get to 100,000 cases, but it only took 36 days to add another 100,000 cases,” Evers said in a video message. “The way things are going, it will only take us 20 days to reach another 100,000 cases.

“I am concerned about what our current trends will mean for healthcare workers, families and our economy in Wisconsin if we don’t get this virus under control.

But the new mandate is not so much an order as it is a recommendation. Evers advised people to stay inside their homes, except for essential travel such as shopping for food or medication, to keep at least six feet away from other people and to wear a face cover.

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