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Rural Wisconsin Is Hit The Hardest With Surge In COVID-19 Cases

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

A COVID storm is on the rise. That grim new warning comes from the governor of Illinois. Texas is another place suffering with many new cases. Residents of El Paso have been asked to stay home for two weeks to prevent cases from overwhelming hospitals there. We are going to take a closer look this morning at Wisconsin. Rural parts of that state are being hit very hard. Teresa Weiler (ph) is a nurse. She supervises the COVID unit at Marshfield Medical Center in central Wisconsin.

TERESA WEILER: We're busy (laughter). It's almost a rotating door here. We either send somebody home or they leave, and then we get somebody else in a bed right away. It's truly day by day.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

In the pandemic, providing patients with 24-hour care means serving their emotional needs, too, because their families can't be with them.

WEILER: The patients are scared. They are alone due to visitor restrictions. We try to be their family. We try to be their friend. We try to be their nurse.

MARTIN: The feeling of isolation is even worse for patients in rural Wisconsin, patients who often have to travel long distances to get to a hospital. Dr. Ryan Andrews is chief medical officer for Aspirus, a health system in the town of Wausau, which has become a COVID hot spot.

RYAN ANDREWS: We're a rural health system that covers approximately 35,000 square miles of territory. In order for patients to receive tertiary or high-level medical care, it's not uncommon for them to have to travel two or three hours to get to us.

GREENE: Just think about that - 35,000 square miles. That is about the size of the state of Indiana. Dr. Andrews says that even though Wisconsin had time to prepare for this surge, medical facilities still only have so many resources.

ANDREWS: Our biggest concern regarding the COVID surge right now is the fact that it continues to go on the upswing. These patients with COVID are very resource intense. And although we've planned and are working through our plan, there is a finite amount that we can support.

GREENE: Teresa Weiler says the nurses she manages are just getting worn out.

WEILER: I think that we just - we don't know how long it's going to go for, and that's concerning. We don't know how to fix this. We don't - there's so much we don't know. That's the scary part. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.