THU AM News: Nursing and group home operators aim to limit COVID-19 spread as resident deaths hit 79; Johnson addresses WMC webinar

— Nursing and group home operators in the state are taking aggressive measures to limit the spread of COVID-19 as hundreds of cases have been identified in their facilities and 79 residents have died.

Meanwhile, thousands of nursing home patients around the country have died from COVID-19. 

“We’re doing everything we can not to introduce the virus into our facilities,” said John Sauer, president and CEO of LeadingAge Wisconsin, a nonprofit long-term care group whose members operate about 500 facilities in the state. “The frail, older population they serve makes them more susceptible to serious consequences of contracting COVID-19.” 

“These are obviously very challenging times,” added John Vander Meer, president and CEO of the Wisconsin Health Care Association and Wisconsin Center for Assisted Living. “Everyone is doing the best they can to respond to this challenge.” 

The interviews with Sauer and Vander Meer took place before the death count emerged Wednesday night.

The state Department of Health Services recently began publishing data on COVID-19 in nursing homes, showing 418 of the state’s 4,620 confirmed cases were in long-term care or group housing as of Tuesday. And officials said Wednesday that 79 of the state’s 242 COVID-19 deaths have occurred in group housing facilities. That number from DHS includes: 37 in skilled nursing facilities, 12 in community-based residential facilities, nine in residential care apartment complexes, 16 in unspecified long-term care facilities, three in other types of group living, one in a group home and another in a correctional facility. 

The elderly are at much greater risk from the virus, with fatality rates as high as 20 percent for people over 80 years old. 

In Kirkland, Wash., dozens of deaths were linked to a single nursing home and more than 100 residents and staff were found to have the virus. And national reports show more than 5,500 COVID-19 deaths have occurred in nursing homes across the country. 

Sauer pointed to outbreaks at facilities in Madison and La Crosse, but added “it appears they did everything right.” 

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— U.S. Sen Ron Johnson is raising the question of whether coronavirus should be allowed to run its course to avoid a prolonged economic crisis. 

During a webinar with business leaders hosted by Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, the Wisconsin Republican pointed to a “debate among epidemiologists” about the best way to handle the response to the virus. 

“Do we let people get infected to the point where we have herd immunity and this thing burns itself out over a short period of time, or do we flatten that curve and extend the infection period over a long period of time?” he said. 

Johnson suggested the number of cases and deaths would be similar for these two approaches. He conceded that both case numbers and deaths could be lowered by extending response measures until a vaccine is available, but said “that’s no certainty.” He also questioned the validity of models predicting millions of deaths across the United States without social distancing and other measures. 

As of Wednesday afternoon, 246 people in Wisconsin have been killed by COVID-19, and health officials have identified 4,845 cases in the state. According to a DHS model, Wisconsin could have had 22,000 infections and up to 1,500 deaths from the virus by April 8 without social distancing and other measures. 

During the webinar, Johnson also proposed limiting loan forgiveness for certain businesses that accessed the Paycheck Protection Program as federal lawmakers consider the next COVID-19 stimulus package. 

The Oshkosh Republican noted the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic is hitting small businesses harder. Many of these companies weren’t able to access the PPP loans after the $349 billion fund quickly ran out. 

In an attempt at “rectifying some of the problems” with that program, he’s calling for “limiting forgiveness for businesses that accessed those loans, that really should not have accessed them.” 

“They are not hurt financially; they’re probably making as much if not more money next year,” he said. “They shouldn’t have those loans automatically forgiven … the assumption is almost all of that will be forgiven. And it really shouldn’t be.” 

— With Wisconsin’s COVID-19 death toll increasing by four to 246, Department of Health Services Deputy Secretary Julie Willems Van Dijk warns a second surge could be more deadly.  

“One of the things we know about pandemics is that they generally don’t come with one peak, they come with multiple peaks,” she said yesterday in a DHS media briefing. “If you look back at the data about the Spanish influenza pandemic, it wasn’t the first peak that killed the most people, it was the second peak of resurgence in the fall.”

Confirmed cases also rose by 225 from yesterday’s count, bringing the cumulative total to 4,845. 

The average of new daily confirmed cases over the last two weeks has been about 143. Now 14 days after the controversial April 7 in-person election, yesterday’s spike is 82 cases over that average.

According to Willems Van Dijk, 19 people who tested positive for COVID-19 voted in the spring primary election or were poll workers, but she noted correlation doesn’t equal causation. 

“We are not able to say that their exposure was necessarily at the polls because they are all people who could have had exposure in other places,” she said. “We have correlation… but we do not have causation… because we don’t have a comparison group.” 

Willems Van Dijk added that symptoms can take up to 14 days to appear, but usually within three to five days. Since yesterday was the end of the incubation period, DHS could be reporting election cases next week. But there could be more delays due to the time of testing, getting results and reporting results to DHS. 

Of the state’s confirmed cases, 27 percent were hospitalized, 7 percent received intensive care and 5 percent have died, according to DHS.

DHS’s hospital dashboard reports 355 COVID patients in hospitals statewide with 139 of those ICU COVID-19 patients. 

Counties reporting deaths include Milwaukee (142), Dane (19), Waukesha (13), Racine (10), Ozaukee (9), Walworth (7), Kenosha (6), Rock (4) and Washington (4). 

Fond du Lac, Grant, and Sauk counties report three deaths each.

Brown, Outagamie and Sheboygan counties report two deaths each.

Adams, Bayfield, Buffalo, Clark, Columbia, Dodge, Door, Iron, Jackson, Juneau, Kewaunee, Marathon, Marinette, Marquette, Richland, Waupaca and Winnebago counties report one death each.

Sixty-five of Wisconsin’s 72 counties have experienced confirmed cases.

Nineteen percent of patients who have tested positive for coronavirus are between the ages of 50-59. This is followed by people 60-69 (16 percent), 40-49 (16 percent) and 30-39 (15 percent).

Seven percent of the people infected by COVID-19 live in a long term care facility and 2 percent live in a group housing facility. Fifty-three percent are unknown. 

Click here for coronavirus resources and information: 

— Nineteen people who either voted in-person or worked at a polling site on election day have tested positive for COVID-19, according to a Department of Health Services official.

What’s more, Wisconsin Guard’s adjutant general said on a briefing call yesterday five members of the Wisconsin National Guard have exhibited COVID-19 systems after serving as poll workers during the April 7 election.

Maj. Gen. Paul Knapp that only one of the five has been tested and that test came back negative.

The remaining four, Knapp said, were not offered tests after consulting with their primary care physicians about their symptoms. Knapp said roughly 2,400 Guard members helped administer the April 7 election.

But DHS Deputy Secretary Julie Willems Van Dijk said if those members of the National Guard were to visit a doctor with the same symptoms today, they would be offered a test.

She said early in the pandemic, health care providers were told not to test those with symptoms unless they were seriously ill, had come in contact with a known positive coronavirus case or were a healthcare worker.

But with testing capacity “significantly” ramping up, Willems Van Dijk said there needs to be a “mind-shift for physicians.”

“We now have a very different situation,” she said. “We’re trying to get the word out to our physician and healthcare partners that the scenario has changed and we do need them to test people with mild symptoms.”

Willems Van Dijk also noted the window for those who may have contracted coronavirus from participating in the election early this month should be coming to a close.

“We would generally expect anyone who had an exposure on April 7 to have exhibited symptoms by April 21,” she said.

Knapp said he wasn’t at liberty to disclose the overall number of positive COVID-19 cases the Wisconsin Guard had recorded. But he added the number was “very low” and said he believed most of the cases were not contracted when Guard members were serving in response to the pandemic.

See the briefing:

— More than a third of Wisconsin businesses responding to a recent survey said they would have to close if the current economic shutdown continues for more than three months. 

The survey was created by the Madison Region Economic Partnership and eight other regional economic development groups, and conducted by UW-Oshkosh. According to a release, about 1.3 percent of all businesses in the state provided responses. 

Responding businesses lost a combined 8,795 jobs in “the earliest days” of the stay-at-home order, according to the survey. These companies collectively lost $126 million in income, $95 million in inventory, $26.6 million in lost wages and productivity, and $404 million from other impacts. 

Across the board, most respondents reported a 25 percent to 50 percent decrease in productivity and income. 

“These impacts are certain to rise when we revisit these companies in a month, two months and 

six months’ time,” said Jeffrey Sachse, director of UW-Oshkosh’s Center for Customized Research and Services. 

See more on the survey: 


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