Chippewa Valley hospitals watch supply inventories
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Chippewa Valley hospitals watch supply inventories

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Ventilators, masks and gowns are in short supply nationwide as COVID-19 continues to spread. Area officials are tracking that equipment locally to determine whether more is needed in the Chippewa Valley.

Angela Weideman, Chippewa County public health director, said she has been in contact with the hospitals, EMS agencies and nursing homes in the county, trying to determine the total number of ventilators here.

“We have a team looking into that right now,” Weideman said. “I know, for the most part, who has them but I don’t know the exact number at each place.”

For instance, the EMS agencies in Chippewa County have three ventilators. Many of the nursing homes have them — but those are already in use.

Chippewa County emergency management director Dennis Brown has been working with Weideman to track and compile the list of area ventilators. He declined to say a number at this time.

“Hospitals have some ventilators. Eliminating elective surgeries frees up some ventilators,” Brown said. “Ventilators aren’t in any real use in this area — there’s been no surge in our area.”

As of Monday afternoon, Chippewa County still has just one positive COVID-19 case; that person remains in isolation at home, and never needed to use a ventilator or stay at an area hospital, Weideman said. That person, who is under age 30, had visited another area where COVID-19 cases are higher. Weideman said the person’s condition hasn’t changed since they announced the confirmed case on Thursday.

There are now at least 15 confirmed COVID cases in western Wisconsin, but no deaths reported.

Weideman urged area residents to not get complacent because there have been relatively few confirmed cases locally.

“People might look at that case total and say, ‘That’s a low number,’” Weideman said. “It’s really important for people to follow the mitigation efforts.”

Other areas of the state have been hit much harder so far by the spread of COVID-19; Milwaukee County has 243 of the state’s 457 confirmed cases through mid-day Tuesday, including three of the state’s five deaths. The other deaths have occurred in Fond du Lac and Ozaukee counties.

Weideman wouldn’t rule out that some of the area ventilators could be moved around to other areas where the machines are needed now.

“We have a regional consortium for preparedness,” she said. “We share when we can share.”

Karen Kraus, public relations specialist at HSHS Sacred Heart and St. Joseph’s Hospitals, said the number of available ventilators in the area fluctuate daily; she also couldn’t provide a number that is at each facility.

There have been four confirmed COVID-19 cases in Eau Claire County. Kraus didn’t know whether any of those individuals had been treated in the HSHS hospital system, and if so, if any had needed the use of a ventilator.

Like Brown, Kraus noted that elective surgeries have been canceled, which frees up beds and ventilators.

Kraus said the hospital system is preparing to obtain more gowns and masks and other equipment that physicians will need, and they’ve been working closely with their vendors.

“From the HSHS standpoint, we are OK,” Kraus said. “We are taking measures to conserve, but we aren’t panicking. We are using our (supplies and equipment) as needed.”

Marshfield Clinic Health System Foundation has started collecting homemade face masks that will be distributed to patients in the hospital system. The foundation posted on its Facebook page asking people who are staying home and need a project to sew masks. If they cannot obtain elastic, they will accept masks with ties.

“Sewn masks will alleviate the shortage and will be distributed to patients to help provide a protective barrier, so that medical-grade N95 masks may be conserved for our health care providers,” the Facebook post reads.

Those homemade masks can be dropped off from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday at the Acoustic Café, 505 S. Barstow St., in Eau Claire.

Kraus praised the collaboration efforts of all the area medical systems as they prepare for more cases.

Erma Radke, OakLeaf Surgical Hospital spokeswoman, said she couldn’t comment at this time, other than to say they are in contact with the other area hospitals and working with them.

Like Weideman, Kraus urged people to not back off the social distancing guidelines.

“Just because it’s something you can’t see, it doesn’t mean it’s not real,” Kraus said. “People have to take it seriously.”

“Just because it’s something you can’t see, it doesn’t mean it’s not real. People have to take it seriously.” Karen Kraus, public relations specialist at HSHS Sacred Heart and St. Joseph’s Hospitals

“Just because it’s something you can’t see, it doesn’t mean it’s not real. People have to take it seriously.”

Karen Kraus, public relations specialist at HSHS Sacred Heart and St. Joseph’s Hospitals

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