Doctors expect hospitalizations, deaths to get worse before slowing down

MADISON, Wis.– Pete Gunderson sees the worst of COVID-19 every day.

Gunderson and his staff at the seven Gunderson Funeral Homes in South-Central Wisconsin help families cope with losing a loved one to a disease that’s showing no signs of getting better.

“Often times, it’s their first time being able to see their loved one in weeks,” Gunderson said. “How heart-wrenching can that be?”

That’s become far too common in Wisconsin in the last four weeks. The state recorded more than 550 COVID-19 deaths since Oct. 1.

Gunderson said the impact COVID-19 is having on his line of work is unlike anything he’s experienced after decades of working in funeral homes.

“We’ve been through times of polio. We’ve been through times of HIV, tuberculosis, and a number of others, but those have all come under control in short periods of time,” Gunderson said.

UW Health’s Dr. Nasia Safdar said COVID-19 works like a wake. First younger people get sick, then more vulnerable people end up hospitalized, and deaths follow soon after that.

“We can expect to see several weeks of this getting worse before we would start to see it getting better,” Safdar, the medical director of infection control, said.

It will take an effort from everyone to get those numbers under control, according to Safdar. She recommends people follow the guidelines that require wearing masks, social distancing and staying home.

“For it to work effectively, it has to be a population level intervention,” Safdar said.

Local funeral homes aren’t overwhelmed with COVID-19 deaths right now, according to Gunderson.

“Initially, everyone was short of (personal protective equipment). We’re up to stuff on that now,” Gunderson said.

Gunderson said his homes are helping others around Wisconsin and the country.

“Many are uncomfortable coming into the hospitals and into Dane County, Milwaukee County, wherever the outbreaks are, and having possible exposure happen to them,” Gunderson said.

Gunderson explains in smaller towns it’s common for only one person to work in a funeral home. So, if that person was exposed, they’d have to self-quarantine and shut business down for two weeks.

Gunderson said the fact COVID-19 can kill someone so quickly makes it even more important for loved ones to be together, and have a support system to start the grieving process.