What Milwaukee County’s Emergency Management Medical Director Says About the Pandemic

“Let’s flatten the curve and end this sooner.”

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Dr. Ben Weston’s job has changed a lot over the last few weeks. He oversees Emergency Medical Services throughout Milwaukee County. He says pandemic work was only a small portion of the job prior to the COVID-19 health crisis. Now, it’s a full-time job with the role changing a bit since the pandemic’s start. Like many, Weston has had to adapt most to the change in pace that comes with working from home. 

On Tuesday, he sat down with Milwaukee Magazine’s Editor and Publisher Carole Nicksin over a livestream lunch to talk about the pandemic’s effect on our community. 

To give us a snapshot of the numbers, at the time of the livestream, the amount of cases was 1,300 and growing with 39 death. There are definitely hot spots and dense populations that are being tracked. If you want to keep up to date with numbers be sure to check-out Milwaukee County Dashboard

Weston says hospital are not overloaded yet, but maintaining this is all going to be determined by how well we flatten the curve. It’s hard to say how many cases are hospitalized, because it is the least frequently reported number and it’s constantly changing. With that, it’s safe to say between 10-20 percent of cases are hospitalized, probably closer to 10 percent though. 

As for our predicted peak of COVID-19, the most anticipated and frequently pondered question. This has been changing since the beginning. Three weeks ago we heard mid-June. Last week it was early-May. Now we’re hearing about three weeks from now. “Our best bet right now is about two to four weeks for peak or those highest rates of COVID-19 in Milwaukee County,” Weston said. 

This all comes with flattening the curve. With that comes stretching the curve as well, which many people forget to take into account. Flattening the curve makes the period of isolation last longer, but it helps out healthcare system by giving them the ability to treat patients within the capacity hospitals allow. 

“One thing we can do, and I can’t stress this enough, is to social distance. We’re looking at around 500 deaths in Milwaukee County with good social distancing. With improper practices, we’re looking at numbers in the thousands. So, it’s really important to keep doing your best,” stressed Weston.

Even if you’re young and healthy, you can get sick. Sure, we’re all playing the risk protocol within our own heads. Even if your risk of illness isn’t high, you’re likely to spread it to another person who is at risk. This is hard and it might even get harder, but we’re all in the same boat. This won’t last forever. 

If you’re wondering about masks, they can help to an extent. Cloth masks have little benefit for prevention and the medical-grade masks need to be saved for our medical professionals on the frontline. A mask does not make you invincible. Again, social distancing is stressed as our best precaution. Although it’s not a science and a new normal to adapt to, it’s our best strategy toward reducing a curve that could overwhelm our healthcare system. 

It’s okay to go get your groceries when they’re needed, as not everybody has the access to delivery. Even with delivery, those workers are putting themselves at a high risk of contraction, so consider tipping well. As a precaution, wiping down groceries with a bleach wipe isn’t a bad idea. Fresh produce should be washed, just as it would be if we weren’t in midst of a pandemic. Washing your hands should be followed with the same concept in mind. We should all be washing our hands, with or without a pandemic. 

If there was one main take-away Weston had it was this: “Stay Home, Save Lives. This should be the talking point of every discussion. Do it for the healthcare workers who are scared of giving this disease to family and scared of contracting it themselves. Let’s flatten the curve and end this sooner.”

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Morgan is a 2020 MilMag intern. She's Minnesota born, but has a Milwaukee heart. An Alverno College undergraduate and will be graduating in December 2020 . Follow her on social media @morgan_lemner