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Officials urge shots, tests as COVID reaches record levels

January 6, 2022 GMT

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Exhausted health officials on Thursday again begged Wisconsin residents to get vaccinated against COVID-19, test for the disease if they’ve been exposed and stay home as omicron swamps state hospitals.

The state Department of Health Services reported a staggering 11,574 cases on Thursday, shattering the old record of 10,288 cases set a day earlier.

The Wisconsin Hospital Association reported 2,060 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 on Thursday, an increase of 345 patients in seven days. The association reported 475 patients were in intensive care. Just 4% of the state’s intensive care beds were available.

State epidemiologist Ryan Westergaard said the worst is yet to come. Models show the omicron surge likely won’t peak until mid-January, if then, he said.

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“(Omicron) has surprised everyone how quickly it spreads despite all we’ve accomplished with vaccinations and all we’ve learned,” Westergaard said. “It wouldn’t shock us if we see higher case numbers this week and next week.”

Madison’s hospitals announced staffing shortages caused by infected employees have forced them to postpone non-emergency surgeries again. The hospitals put off such surgeries in 2020 when the pandemic was first taking hold.

Marquette University officials announced Wednesday that they would delay the start of the spring semester by a week, starting classes on Jan. 24. The university also said students, faculty and staff who don’t get booster shots by Feb. 1 will be subject to weekly coronavirus tests.

Edgewood College in Madison said it too would delay its spring semester by week, with classes starting on Jan. 24.

University of Wisconsin-Madison spokeswoman Meredith McGlone told the Wisconsin State Journal that the state’s flagship school has no plans to delay its spring semester and that classes are still set to begin Jan. 25.

A walk-up testing clinic will open Monday at the Alliant Energy Center, an exhibition center and arena in Madison, Dane County health officials said Thursday. The clinic is expected to provide up to 750 tests per day before ramping up to 1,000 tests per day on Jan. 17.

Westergaard urged people to get vaccinated, acknowledging that vaccines don’t block infection in all cases but can prevent severe cases of COVID-19 and keep people out of hospitals. Most of the patients in intensive care with life-threatening COVID-19 are unvaccinated, he said.

DeSalvo begged people to get tested. She acknowledged that tests are hard to schedule and at-home over-the-counter tests are in short supply but people can order kits through the state health department’s website. She also implored people to wear masks indoors.

Westergaard said a glimmer of hope is that the omicron wave could produce a collective immunity that would protect people from the next coronavirus variant.

“I’m certainly hopeful the pandemic will wind to a close after we get through (the omicron wave),” he said. “But it’s difficult to predict what the virus is going to do. We learned with omicron really significant changes in the virus are possible.”