OCONTO— There is significant uncontrolled spread of COVID-19 in Oconto County, according to health officials. This uncontrolled spread directly impacts the healthcare system, schools and public health response, they stated in a press release.

The joint statement was signed by: Christopher P. Brabant, president and CEO of HSHS St. Clare Memorial Hospital in Oconto Falls; James Dietsche, CEO of Bellin Health Oconto Hospital; and Debra Konitzer, Oconton County Public Health Officer.

The uncontrolled spread of COVID-19 has led to an increase in hospitalizations and is straining our health care system, the statement reads. Oconto County hospitals have activated their emergency plans. Currently, 17% of hospital beds are available in a seven-county region which includes Oconto County. This limited capacity is very concerning as we head into flu season. Some 4,425 Wisconsin residents were hospitalized due to influenza during the 2019-2020 season.

“It is extremely important that our communities remain vigilant in their actions and how they contribute to the spread of COVID-19,” said Chris Brabant, president and CEO, HSHS St. Clare Memorial Hospital. “If you are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 or have been exposed, please get tested at one of the testing sites in our county and not the emergency room. This is one of the ways to help control the spread.”

Due to the rapid surge of cases, Oconto County Public Health is operating at crisis capacity and is no longer able to reach out to all positive cases in a timely manner. In addition, public health is no longer able to call the contacts of the positive case. This delay in calling the positive cases and inability to call the close contacts to give isolation and quarantine guidelines hampers efforts to contain the virus.

Oconto County healthcare providers, public health are imploring our residents to unite and act now to stop the spread of COVID-19. Masking is one strategy to stop the spread. “We know masking works, and it’s a simple way to protect yourself and those around you,” said Bellin Health Oconto Hospital CEO Jim Dietsche. “It’s an important way to show caring for others, and to help ensure businesses can stay open and our communities can continue to thrive.”

We can no longer be divided when it comes to this illness, it is time work together as a community and protect each other. “We cannot ignore the science.” stated Debra Konitzer, Oconto County Health Officer. “We can prevent deaths. We can keep our family and friends out of hospitals. We can all do our part to protect each other.”

Health officials offer the following advice to ACT NOW-Stop the Spread:

■ Indoors, do not gather with people that you do not live with. This means stay home as much as possible, and avoid parties, reunions, weddings and other gatherings.

■ Outdoors, limit gatherings to 10 or less people while maintaining 6 feet of space from each other and wearing masks.

■ Wear a face mask while in public.

■ Keep 6 feet of space from others while in public.

■ Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.

■ If you have COVID-19 symptoms, get tested and stay home while waiting for test results.

■ Follow isolation and quarantine guidelines.

For more information, visit www.ocontocountycovid.info.