Wisconsin Public Radio

Milwaukee Preparing for COVID-19 Outbreak

Local officials, healthcare providers are discussing, readying the city's capacity to treat those infected by Coronavirus.

By , Wisconsin Public Radio - Mar 13th, 2020 03:49 pm
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Milwaukee City Hall. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Milwaukee City Hall. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and the city’s health department is meeting with local hospital officials to prepare for a new coronavirus outbreak. With many of Milwaukee County’s hospital beds already at capacity, officials here are attempting to get ahead of COVID-19 to help prevent the spread.

On Friday afternoon, state health officials reported 11 new cases of COVID-19 in Wisconsin, bringing the state’s total to 19, including one person who has recovered from the illness. Two of the cases have been identified in Milwaukee County. The state has not specified where in the county the cases are located.

“I would like to believe that we will never get a case here, but talking to the individuals behind me,” Barrett said Thursday night, backed by representatives from all of Milwaukee’s health care systems and Federally Qualified Health Care clinics. “I am convinced we are not going to get not just one case, but many cases here. Rather than wait, we have been working around to the clock to determine how we are going to respond to this.”

The Milwaukee Health Department and state Department of Health Services has asked people who suspect they could have novel coronavirus not to go to hospital emergency rooms but to instead call their primary care doctor.

If they don’t have a primary care doctor, people are asked to call ahead to an urgent care clinic. Testing for COVID-19 will be given to people who have symptoms including fever, cough and shortness of breath. Travel history is still a consideration, both international and domestic travel to areas with community spread of the disease.

The city and health care providers will continue meeting. Barrett said the issues are pretty basic including testing for people with symptoms and the need for more flexibility on locations for testing.

“It’s also talking about — at some point — the need for additional beds,” Barrett said. “You can see around the country different locations are taking different approaches. This is the first conversation we’ve had to even broach that topic.”

The city is currently trying to assess how many hospital beds are available and how many isolation units are available.

Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele declared a local health emergency Friday.

“Our top priority is to keep Milwaukee County residents and visitors safe, and we will use every tool and resource at our disposal to ensure we continue our efforts to be the healthiest county in Wisconsin,” Abele said in a written statement. “From our airport to our zoo, everyone at Milwaukee County is putting their full weight behind ensuring we are prepared for COVID-19.”

Mary Jo Meyers, director of the Milwaukee County Department of Health and Human Services, said the county will be a partner with the city. That could include using beds for quarantined individuals or vehicles currently used to serve the homeless to administer testing, Meyers said.

“We’ll be looking at the city where there isn’t as much access to the clinics or hospitals,” Meyers said. “We don’t want the emergency rooms to be flooded so do we need to get more creative about mobile clinics or mobile access? Milwaukee County has some of those resources.”

Milwaukee, Health Care Providers Prep For New Coronavirus Outbreak was originally published by Wisconsin Public Radio.

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