By Shereen Siewert

Marathon County is one of 65 Wisconsin counties now classified as having “critical” coronavirus activity, a new classification rolled out by state health officials this week.

The classification means disease activity is above 1,000 cases per 100,000 residents, said Wisconsin Department of Health Services Deputy Secretary Julie Willems Van Dijk. Marathon County far exceeds that threshold, with 5,569.8 cases per 100,000 people as of Thursday, Nov. 12. The Department of Health Services reports 211 new cases county-wide over the past 24 hours, bringing the total to 7,534. The Marathon County death toll now stands at 91.

Wisconsin Department of Health Services screenshot on Nov. 12, 2020

Health and hospital officials caution the state’s COVID-19 situation is becoming increasingly severe. Wisconsin on Thursday reported more than 7,000 new cases and more than 60 deaths for the third day in a row, with record hospitalizations. Aspirus spokesman Andrew Krauss tells Wausau Pilot & Review that the system’s Wausau hospital had 74 total COVID-19 inpatients as of Wednesday. Of those, 18 were in ICU settings. System-wide, Aspirus had 133 COVID inpatients as of Wednesday.

In a media briefing, Van Dijk said bed availability statewide is down to about 8 percent. But the biggest problem, Van Dijk said, is staffing, with a large number of health care workers ill or quarantined.

Dr. Ryan Westergaard, a chief medical officer with the state Department of Health Services, said this week that the state is close to a “tipping point.”

“This could get much worse quickly,” Westergaard said.

State Representative Pat Snyder (R- Schofield) issued a statement today encouraging residents to take precautions relating to the virus and follow guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Our state has been facing this virus for eight months now, and unfortunately the current outlook is bleak,” Snyder said. “Hospitals in our area are facing extremely limited ICU bed capacity, taking away from both our COVID-19 response capabilities, but also the ability to respond to other incidents.”

Snyder, whose wife is a nurse, said he is fortunate to have an inside look at the challenges facing healthcare facilities.

Rep. Pat Snyder

“This virus is not something to be taken lightly. In order to give our hospitals and clinics the ability to catch up, we need to exercise caution in our interactions, and take simple steps to protect ourselves, our loved ones and our community.”

Snyder said Americans pride ourselves on personal responsibility and freedom, but they also seek to protect themselves, their neighbors and families.

The CDC issued an updated scientific brief Tuesday emphasizing that wearing a mask doesn’t just protect other people, but also protects the wearer from the coronavirus.

When the CDC first recommended face coverings in April, the agency cited evidence that the virus could be transmitted by asymptomatic people unaware that they are infected and spreading the virus. Masks are intended to block virus-laden particles emitted by an infected person. Now, according to the latest research, there is growing evidence that even cloth masks can reduce the amount of infectious droplets inhaled by the person who wears one.

The agency’s most recent scientific brief also cites an economic argument for masks. An analysis that relied on U.S. data revealed that “increasing universal masking by 15 percent could prevent the need for lockdowns and reduce associated losses of up to $1 trillion or about 5 percent of gross domestic product.”

Read the CDC’s latest scientific brief here.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, said Tuesday he called and left a message for Gov. Tony Evers calling for negotiation after the Evers’ speech that called for unity and urged people to stay home and wear masks.