By Shereen Siewert

Hospitalizations of COVID patients rose by 72 percent in north central Wisconsin over the past two weeks as the number of infections in the region continues to surge, health officials reported Wednesday.

Marathon County shattered yet another record Wednesday for single-day infections, with 89 new cases and one new death. As of Wednesday, 608 of the county’s 1,547 confirmed positive cases are considered active, with an additional three patients hospitalized, according to the Marathon County Health Department.

Statewide, the surge in cases is threatening to overwhelm some hospitals.

Wisconsin had the third-highest positivity rate of any state as of Wednesday. Hospital officials in some areas said they were close to being overwhelmed by COVID-19 patients — a scenario that health officials have been warning could happen since the pandemic began but that only now seems like it could happen.

Matthew Heywood, president and CEO of Aspirus HealthCare in Wausau, said that hospital has started putting patients on waiting lists, with wait times ranging from several hours to a full day. The system had 61 patients Tuesday who had or were believed to have COVID-19, which was a 30% increase from Monday, when it had 47.

“The problem is, how do we care for you when you have an accident when we have an overflow of COVID patients?” Heywood said. “There’s only so much you can do before you start to overwhelm the system.”

Between Sept. 16 and Sept. 29, Marathon County is reporting case information in the “very high” range. This categorization is created by combining the county’s burden of 461.6 per 100,000 people and the trajectory in case growth.

The county’s death toll now sits at 15, while 1,327 Wisconsin residents have died of complications related to COVID-19, officials said. Health officials reported 27 new deaths in Wisconsin over the past 24 hours, breaking the former record of 22 deaths set in late May.

About 16 percent of the state’s ventilators are in use, while 80.6 percent of ICU beds are currently occupied. Just under 82 percent of all hospital beds statewide are in use.

Officials at Bellin Hospital in Green Bay said their facility was at 94% capacity on Tuesday, with 31 patients being treated for COVID-19, up from 26 last Friday. CEO Chris Woleske said the hospital hopes to convert part of its campus into another space for beds and is teaching nonclinical workers, such as athletic trainers, how to deliver supplies and move patients so that nurses can focus on duties only they can perform.

State Health Services Secretary Andrea Palm and Dr. Ryan Westergaard, Wisconsin’s chief medical officer, said Tuesday that they hadn’t received any reports of patients being turned away from hospitals or not getting care. They said if cases don’t subside, patients could be directed to a 530-bed field hospital that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built on the state fairgrounds in West Allis in April.

A free community testing event is set for Friday and will be held from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Northcentral Technical College, 1000 W. Campus Dr., Wausau. No appointment is necessary, but residents can pre-register at People with and without symptoms, age 5 and up, are eligible for testing, while symptomatic and close contacts are strongly encouraged to be tested.