By Shereen Siewert

About half of the patients admitted to the hospital in the Aspirus system for COVID-19 symptoms are in the intensive care unit, and the “vast majority” of admissions are unvaccinated patients, an Aspirus spokesman said Thursday.

During a news conference Jeff Wicklander, Aspirus Health Senior Vice President and Aspirus Wausau Hospital President, said more than 80 COVID patients are being actively cared for in the system, though the number fluctuates daily. The age of patients is skewing younger compared to those admitted last year, during the height of the pandemic. Patients now range from 27 to 82, Wicklander said.

Of the roughly 80 COVID-19 patients in the system, 20 are in Aspirus Wausau Hospital, said communications lead Andrew Krauss.

Wicklander stressed that his organization is working to communicate the necessity of vaccines to combat the virus.

“Obviously the goal of a health system is to create the safest environment for those we serve,” Wicklander said. “We know that getting vaccinated is one of those key components.”

But unlike the Marshfield system, Aspirus is not requiring staff to be vaccinated at this time. Wicklander said he “doesn’t have the numbers” of who has been vaccinated in the system so far.

That situation is likely to change, as the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services announced today they will extend a vaccination requirement issued earlier this summer — for nursing home staff — to other healthcare settings including hospitals, home-health agencies and dialysis centers. Additionally on Thursday, President Biden announced a federal rule requiring companies with 100 or more employees to ensure workers are vaccinated or tested weekly.

Wicklander said health officials are continuing to watch for influenza as the flu season gets underway. RSV is also on the rise, he said.

About one-third fewer staff are missing work due to COVID compared to the last surge, he said.

Wicklander said the system does have bed availability as well as options to transfer patients from one hospital to another should the need arise. So far, services have not been restricted, he said.

“It is extremely important that we continue to have conversations about the importance of vaccinations,” he said. “What we’re seeing with this current Delta surge, really, the hospitalizations – it’s all related to the unvaccinated.”