Oct. 7 (UPI) -- Wisconsin announced Wednesday it plans to open a 530-bed field hospital in response to a surge in COVID-19 hospitalizations in the state.
Gov. Tony Evers said an alternate care facility at the Wisconsin State Fair Park will begin accepting COVID-19 patients "within the next week" to relieve local hospital systems that are nearing capacity and experiencing staff shortages. The state reported 853 hospitalizations as of Tuesday, up 71 from the previous day.
"Our hospital system is strained and in some areas of the state reaching capacity and at risk of being overwhelmed," Wisconsin Department of Health Services Secretary-designee Andrea Palm said. "And as COVID-19 cases rise, hospitals across the nation are experiencing critical staffing shortages -- largely due to staff members experiencing infection or exposure to the virus in their communities."
The governor's office said the facility will admit patients who are not seriously ill or in need of hospital-level care and will serve as a transitional facility to offer oxygen and medical care to patients in need of support in their recovery.
"The goal of this facility is to transition COVID-19 patients who are less ill out of hospitals and reserve hospital beds for patients who are more ill and in need of hospital-level care," the announcement stated.
Evers also issued a statewide order restricting indoor public gatherings at certain businesses. His third order in recent weeks limits gatherings to 25% capacity and builds on an existing face mask mandate.
"We're in a crisis right now and need to immediately change our behavior to save lives," he said.
"We are continuing to experience a surge in cases and many of our hospitals are overwhelmed, and I believe limiting indoor public gatherings will help slow the spread of this virus."
The United States' top infectious diseases expert has warned that 400,000 people nationwide could be dead from COVID-19 by this winter if people don't follow recommended health guidelines.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told students at American University in Washington, D.C., Tuesday that a second wave of the coronavirus in the forthcoming colder months has the potential to be very deadly.
"The models tell us that if we do not do the kinds of things that we're talking about in the cold of the fall and the winter, we could have from 300,000 to 400,000 deaths," he said. "That would be just so tragic, if that happens."
Fauci also refuted a tweet from President Donald Trump on Tuesday that likened COVID-19 to influenza.
"You don't get a pandemic that kills a million people and it isn't even over yet with influenza," Fauci told NBC News. "So it is not correct to say it's the same as flu. It has some overlapping symptomatology early on. But flu doesn't do the things to you that COVID-19 can."
Trump's tweet was later deleted by Twitter for violating its policy against spreading misleading and potentially harmful information.
Updated data from Johns Hopkins University showed 43,500 new cases nationwide on Tuesday, an increase of about 4,000 over Monday. Deaths also spiked on Tuesday to about 700, the most in nearly a week.
Since the start of the outbreak, there have been 7.51 million cases and 211,100 deaths nationwide, according to Johns Hopkins.
There has been an average of about 45,000 new cases per day in the United States so far in October.
In Georgia, Gov. Brian Kemp and state health officials warned Wednesday of a "twindemic" of COVID-19 and the flu. He and Health Commissioner Dr. Kathleen Toomey urged Georgians to get flu shots, wear masks and follow distancing guidelines.
Toomey said the twin epidemics could be "devastating."
Georgia's 7-day average of new cases rose by 3.4% this week, although it's down 67% from its peak in late July.
In Kentucky, Gov. Andy Beshear renewed his face mask order for another 30 days and reported more than 1,000 cases Monday -- the third-highest total to date.
"We are experiencing an escalation ... and it is significant," he told reporters, saying the state is on track to surpass 6,100 cases this week.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order allowing bars and "similar establishments" to open at up to 50% capacity and all other businesses to open at 75% capacity in counties where COVID-19 hospitalizations are less than 15% of hospital capacity beginning Oct. 14.
"Opening bars does not mean that COVID-19 is no longer a threat and most Texans are still susceptible to the virus. As bars and similar businesses begin to open, we all must remain vigilant and show personal responsibility to protect ourselves and our loved ones," he said.
Abbott added that openings will be conducted in conjunction with county judges, who will be able to opt-in to reopening bars if they meet the health requirements.