The Door County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Friday to support a public heath advisory asking residents to avoid gatherings, wear masks, and limit contacts in light of the rapid spread of COVID-19 in the community.
The advisory calls for supporting the enforcement of the mask mandate and social distancing guidelines as seasons change and the Thanksgiving holiday approaches.
“This virus is just outrageously efficient at spreading,” said Sue Powers, Door County public health manager. “We’re all tired and want to return to normal and COVID would love that.”
Door County Board Chair Dave Lienau said he called the meeting after Powers issued the advisory and Door County Medical Center CEO contacted him about the status of the county’s health care resources.
“We are in a situation that needs more compliance than we have seen,” Leinau said.
Stephens said the hospital now consistently has more COVID-19 patients than its COVID ward can support, which takes a toll on space and staff. The hospital is encountering increasing difficulty finding beds for patients needing care for non-COVID emergencies such as heart attacks because regional hospitals are full. One patient was sent to Milwaukee after a 12-hour search for a local bed.
“Our team of caregivers is doing a tremendous job of meeting the need and caring for our community, but this volume of inpatients for COVID or otherwise is not sustainable for an extended period of time and should not be tolerated by our community,” Stephens said.
Lienau said it’s a plea for help that residents need to hear.
“Basically our health care community is asking us for help to get the word back out and double and triple our efforts to get people to socially distance, wear masks, stay home, limit their gathering especially with the holidays coming up,” Lienau said. “It’s engulfing and overwhelming our health care system and let’s pull together as a community to try to do whatever we can to try and minimize that.”
Powers said the county has a larger COVID-19 burden than any of the surrounding counties. The county has had 1,464 positive tests since the pandemic began, and that number doubled over the last month. Five new hospitalizations were reported Thursday. At least 10 Door County residents have died from the virus.
“We are the number one hot spot at the moment,” Powers said. “It really has hit home. It has hit our community and our state. We need to really consider the most vulnerable older adults in our community.”
There are 456 patients in the ICU in Wisconsin with COVID-19, and 2,274 patients hospitalized. The Wisconsin Hospital Association issued a statement saying that the capacity of the state’s health care system to serve these patients “is shrinking every day.”
The advisory doesn’t outline any new restrictions on businesses or people, but does encourage stronger enforcement. The Health Department may issue a directive to people or establishments if there is credible evidence they are not following the guidelines. Citations could be issued for a minimum of $100 and a maximum of $500 for each violation.
“We are reiterating that it is enforceable and encouraging people to redouble their efforts, and we as a county will be doing everything we can to help alleviate the situation,” Lienau said.
During the board’s deliberations Supervisor Laura Vlies Wotachek urged her colleagues to remove from their minds any preconceived beliefs about COVID.
“Right now we have health care professionals coming to us asking us for help,” she said. “It doesn’t matter what you believe or don’t believe in COVID, this is what they’re asking of us. I think we can do a little bit more just to get through this.”