Why Flattening The Curve Matters
Mayor Tom Barrett lays out how Wisconsin could be short by 56,000 hospital beds.
In the past two weeks, a lot has been made of “flattening the curve” — the public health strategy to slow the spread of COVID-19 and, most importantly, preserve capacity within hospitals to treat those that need it.
“Our hospitals are busy. They always operate at a high level,” said Dr. Ben Weston, director of medical services for Milwaukee County, during a briefing on the city and county’s pandemic response.
Mayor Tom Barrett added numbers to Weston’s claim, and then extrapolated them out.
There are approximately 12,000 hospital beds in the state and at any time 8,000 are filled, said Barrett.
Barrett noted there are six million people in Wisconsin (2010 census: 5.68 million) and if only 10 percent of the population got the disease, that would leave 600,000 with COVID-19. Approximately 10 percent of them would need to be hospitalized according to figures shared by the state earlier Monday.
“That’s why what we’re talking about is so important,” said Barrett of the need to practice social distancing (staying home when possible, staying six feet away from others). If that same number of people got infected over a longer period of time it would save lives by preserving hospital beds.
Have the city and state waited too long to issue a “stay at home” order?
“It’s hard to say,” said Milwaukee Health Commissioner Jeanette Kowalik. “Us issuing these this week, this is a good time.” She said waiting until next week could be too late.
Slowing the spread of the disease by isolating people is intended to preserve hospital capacity. “Our goal, as we all recognize, is to encourage people to stay home, so please stay home,” said Barrett.
But Barrett and Kowalik both raised concerns Monday that the message isn’t being received across the city. A map of cases in Milwaukee County shows that the bulk of the 158 cases in the city are clustered in predominantly black neighborhoods on the city’s far northwest side.
“It’s middle-aged African American men who are the majority of cases in the city,” said Kowalik. But, as Barrett, Kowalik and other public health officials have repeatedly stressed, the disease doesn’t discriminate. Ticking off a list of negative health factors, including poverty and redlining Kowalik said, “Seeing COVID-19 cases in certain parts of the community, it kind of mirrors those other health factors, which shows that there are disparities.”
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