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Wisconsin health officials opened a field hospital Wednesday at the state fairgrounds near Milwaukee to cater to the swelling number of COVID-19 cases threatening to overwhelm hospitals.
The 530-bed field clinic was built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in April at the request of Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers' administration. Local leaders had warned about the possibility of area hospitals being overwhelmed, but hospitalizations didn't reach the point where the hospital was needed, until now.
Only 16% of the state's 11,452 hospital beds were available as of Tuesday afternoon, according to the state's Department of Health Services. The number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients reached 853, its highest during the pandemic according to the COVID Tracking Project, with 216 in intensive care.
"This alternative care facility will take some of the pressure off our health care facilities while expanding the continuum of care for folks who have COVID-19," said Evers.
The spike in cases has largely been blamed on the reopening of colleges and K-12 schools as well as people's refusal to wear masks and practice social distancing. Wisconsin ranked third nationwide this week in daily new cases per capita, making it the hot spot for coronavirus infections.
Over 31,000 coronavirus patients are hospitalized nationwide according to the COVID Tracking Project.
The hospital, which is designed to provide low-level care, will accept only patients who have already been hospitalized elsewhere for at least 24 to 48 hours, according to the Wisconsin Department of Administration. Patients who qualify will be transported to the facility by ambulance. The facility will not accept walk-ins.
It will be staffed mainly by volunteers, state workers, and National Guard members.
Several other states moved to set up field hospitals in the early stages of the pandemic - at great expense - only to find that they got little to no use and many were shut down.