Health care providers experiencing COVID-19 case surge

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Heidi Kirschbaum, Crossing Rivers Health Emergency Department Clinical Services Director, stands in full PPE (personal protective equipment) as the department sees a rise in Covid cases. Having seen a lot over her 23 years as a nurse, Kirschbaum said Covid is much more serious than influenza.

Crossing Rivers Health is experiencing a surge of Covid patients in its emergency department, urgent care, and clinics. 

“There’s no question that we’re seeing a rise in cases,” said Jim Jordan, MD, emergency room physician and ER medical director. “Covid cases had been pretty quiet for a while now, but with the new variant, we’re seeing a higher volume again ... surprisingly, affecting the younger population.”

In line with trends in other areas of the country, younger patients are experiencing severe symptoms of Covid compared to the initial rise in cases in 2020. 

“We’re seeing young, healthy people in their 40s getting Covid and getting very sick with it,” said Heidi Kirschbaum, emergency department clinical services director. “We’re seeing little kids, too; that’s concerning for sure.”

The symptoms of the Delta variant appear to be the same as the original version of COVID-19: cough, shortness of breath, and fever are all common. However, providers are seeing people getting sicker quicker, especially younger people. 

“It’s the low oxygen levels that are very concerning. We’re seeing more respiratory symptoms in this population where it is causing serious issues in their lungs and respiratory tract,” said Dr. Jordan. 

“It’s not unusual to have people walk in and have oxygen levels that are extremely low at 70-80 percent, and they’re 40 years old. I’ve never seen that before,” Kirschbaum added. “People say it’s just like influenza. I’ve taken care of influenza patients for much of my 23 years as a nurse. It’s not the same illness. It’s much more serious.”

The rise in Covid patients has a significant impact on area health care systems and care that is available. Kirschbaum said, “We’re seeing the facilities that we normally transfer our sickest patients to not have any beds. They don’t have the capacity to take our patients and our inpatient unit is filling up.”

Patients with other serious conditions are impacted, too. Dr. Jordan said, “We have other people come in who also need care—heart attacks, strokes, major trauma—and caring for Covid-related illness is taking away from some of the time with those people.”

Jordan and Kirschbaum noted, the majority of Covid cases that come into the emergency room are people who have not been vaccinated. According to the Department of Health Services, more than 98 percent of Covid cases in Wisconsin, between January 2021 and the end of July 2021, were among people who were not fully vaccinated. According to the Center for Disease Control, a small percentage of fully vaccinated individuals will experience a breakthrough infection. While the Covid vaccines are highly effective, no vaccine is 100 percent effective at delivering immunity. Typically, vaccinated people are either asymptomatic or have very mild symptoms if they contract the Delta variant. 

“I think people need to get their vaccines to get on top of this,” said Dr. Jordan, “We know it works. I really believe that this is the best thing we have right now to fight this virus.” 

To schedule your Covid-19 vaccine, contact your health care provider or public health agency. 

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