By Anders Ulland, MD

Chief of Staff, Amery Hospital & Clinic

It’s the hot topic: rising COVID-19 cases, a concerning new variant, changing mask guidelines and federal mandates.

Locally, there’s increasingly good reason to pay attention. In our own community, we are now in the fourth wave of COVID-19 – with Wisconsin hospitalizations more than twice as high as this time last year and higher than any time since last February. Consider:

  • At Amery Hospital & Clinic, COVID-19 testing volumes continue to increase. Average testing volume (310 per week) and test positivity (16%) are both up substantially over the past few weeks. We are also seeing high hospital bed utilization, both locally and across the HealthPartners system, with increasing numbers of COVID-19 patients hospitalized at Amery and across Wisconsin and Minnesota. 
  • Polk County has a very high rate of COVID-19 cases. In fact, the county ranks among the top 10 counties in the state for positivity rate, with a positivity rate of 12.5%. The statewide positivity rate average is 8.1% for the seven days ending Sept. 14.
  • In our Northwest Region of Wisconsin, between Sept. 1 and Sept. 14, COVID-19 hospitalizations grew by 28%, with 87 COVID-19 patients hospitalized as of Sept. 14.    

This data from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services illustrates what we in health care in Amery are experiencing daily: Like other health systems across the state, we’ve experienced a large increase in patients with COVID-19 requiring hospitalization. Year-to-date, 90 percent of our patients hospitalized with COVID-19 have been unvaccinated. But now we are seeing younger patients with fewer risk factors.  

In the month of August, Amery Hospital & Clinic saw 11 patients with COVID-19 in our emergency department: 10 of those were unvaccinated. Of those 10, seven were hospitalized. Of the seven hospitalized unvaccinated patients, one died and one is still hospitalized as of this writing. (For comparison: In the month of June, we saw no COVID-19 patients in our emergency department, and we saw three in the month of July. So our volumes have increased significantly.)

The Delta variant is more infectious than any prior variant we’ve seen in our state or country. There is great urgency in our own community to do more to help stop the spread of COVID. The best ways to do that are a layered approach:

  1. Get vaccinated. This is the first line of defense. Right now, at least one vaccine we use is FDA approved and others are authorized for emergency use. All have shown to be effective in preventing hospitalization and death. But, when we see breakthrough infections, they are most commonly from the Delta variant. These breakthrough cases are rare, and they present with milder illness and result in hospitalization about 1 percent of the time. We know the COVID-19 vaccines are safe. Read more about the safety of the vaccines at https://www.healthpartners.com/blog/are-covid-19-vaccines-safe-here-are-the-facts-everyone-should-know/
  2. Mask up. Masking is recommended in indoor settings in counties like Polk with a higher prevalence of COVID infection until case counts fall again. Lower your risk by gathering outdoors or in well-ventilated areas.
  3. Keep your distance. Inside or out, keep a safe distance of six feet between people.

As you gather with friends and family, remember it is within our power to keep them safe. If we all work together, we can make a difference.

Published on September 21, 2021 in the Amery Free Press.