People are less healthy than they were before the pandemic, adding further strain to hospitals

MADISON, Wis. — New research shows many people are sicker now than they were before the coronavirus pandemic.

Officials at UW Health say that may be because the pandemic has gotten in the way of many peoples’ routine care and appointments.

“Segments of the population of Wisconsin appear to be sicker than before the pandemic, and the average case we are seeing is more serious,” Dr. Sandra Kamnetz said. “It will be critical that everyone continue to schedule their routine screenings and seek preventative care to stay as healthy as possible.”

Kamnetz says the combination of delayed preventative care — whether through canceled appointments early in the pandemic or delays in getting appointments — and the stress of the pandemic have led to an “incredibly high” number of people seeking care.

A survey conducted by the UW School of Medicine and Public Health and the Survey of Health Wisconsin found since July 1, 2020, preventative care appointments were the most likely to be canceled. On top of that, about 48% of people who took the survey said they were less active than they were before the pandemic, possibly leading to more health issues.

Additionally, the percentage of anxiety disorders reported was three times as high as it was in the second quarter of 2019, and reported cases of depression were four times higher.

“Evidence continues to show our health has been impacted negatively by this pandemic, and it has impacted capacity at our health care facilities,” Dr. Kamnetz said.

Despite that, health officials are urging people to continue their preventative care appointments and get in to see their doctor when they can.

This comes as the combination of COVID-19 hospitalizations and the overall worsening health of some people continues to put a strain on the state’s hospitals.

The most recent data from the Department of Health Services shows 91 percent of hospital beds in Wisconsin are currently in use, including 94.1 percent of intensive care beds. In south-central Wisconsin, 89 percent of hospital beds are currently in use, including 88 percent of ICU beds. Just under one-third of hospitals in the region — 32.3 percent — are operating at peak capacity.