Jeramey Jannene

Officials Prepping State Fair Park Care Facility

Hospitalization surge in COVID cases pushes northeast Wisconsin hospitals to their limits.

By - Oct 7th, 2020 12:48 pm
Hospital bed being setup in McCormick Place. U.S. Air Force Photo by Senior Airman Jay Grabiec

Hospital bed being setup in McCormick Place. U.S. Air Force file photo by Senior Airman Jay Grabiec

Wisconsin continues to set record highs in active COVID-19 hospitalizations over the past month. The 853 people reported to be actively hospitalized with a confirmed case of the disease on Tuesday afternoon is up 130% from just three weeks ago.

And as hospital capacity dwindles, the state is expected to press an overflow facility at Wisconsin State Fair Park in West Allis into service. A formal announcement is expected Wednesday afternoon with the facility opening next week.

Work began in April, under the leadership of the Army Corps of Engineers, to convert the fair’s exposition center into an alternative care facility. The 200,000-square-foot building was equipped with 754 beds, dividing walls, showers, inline oxygen lines and expanded bathrooms as part of a $15 million project. But it was never put into service.

“We are hoping that you can criticize us two, three, four weeks from now and say you shouldn’t have done that,” said Mayor Tom Barrett on April 9th in describing the facility as an “insurance policy.”

Now the state is expecting to need the capacity, but not because of Milwaukee area residents. Hospital capacity is particularly limited in the northeast corner of the state. Brown County, home of Green Bay, is the state’s leader in per-capita COVID-19 spread. Milwaukee held the title for much of the summer, but was passed by Brown and now three other counties in recent weeks.

The facility currently has 530 beds and is scheduled to open October 14th. It does not provide the full range of care available in a hospital, but offers a basic level of oversight and comfort.

The state’s recent case totals are nearly triple what they were a month ago, and hospitalizations are a lagging indicator of the disease’s spread.

Former Ascension Wisconsin president Debra Standridge serves as the leader of the facility. She is scheduled to join Governor Tony Evers in a press briefing at 1:30 p.m.

A similar facility was planned for Dane County, but was never completed. McCormick Place, Chicago’s convention center, was partially converted to an alternative care facility.

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Categories: Health

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