Protecting people with cancer during the omicron surge

COVID-19’s staggering spread across Wisconsin is disrupting patient care and pushing our hospitals to their limits.

Record high case numbers are straining hospital capacity, causing widespread repercussions for patients with cancer and other serious illnesses.

Many hospitals are postponing nonessential procedures, limiting visitors, and reporting long emergency room wait times, dangerously low blood supplies, and staffing shortages.
People with cancer and their loved ones should take extra precautions during this time to protect their health. Here is what patients and families need to know:

  • Get your booster shot, if you haven’t already. People who get the COVID booster are significantly less likely to need hospitalization, and are less likely to spread the disease to a loved one with a compromised immune system. If you are not vaccinated, schedule your first shot now.
  • People with compromised immune systems, such as people with cancer, now can get a fourth vaccine dose five months after their third shot, to improve their immune response. Depending on where you live, you may be able to schedule your fourth dose at your local vaccination site, or you may need to speak with your doctor to learn more.
  • Limit the time you spend with anyone outside your own household, at least until the current wave has subsided.
  • Avoid extra or unnecessary outings and wear a well-fitting, high-quality mask whenever you leave home. N95 and KN95 masks are best at protecting against omicron. A more affordable (and easier to find) alternative may be to wear a surgical mask over a cloth mask.
  • Take extra precautions to avoid injury that may require an emergency room visit, such as walking outdoors on icy pavement.
  • Speak with your doctor about any upcoming procedures, such as a surgery or colonoscopy, in case it needs to be postponed. If you are asked to postpone a cancer screening or diagnostic procedure, make sure to reschedule it as soon as you are able.
  • If you are immunocompromised, ask your doctor if you’re eligible for a preventive treatment designed to help your body prevent or fight COVID-19. (Depending on your region, supply may be limited.)
  • Talk with your doctor before taking any unapproved at-home remedy that claims to prevent or treat COVID infection. Some of these have been shown to cause complications such as organ failure that can lead to cancer treatment being delayed or canceled.
  • Eligible loved ones can consider making a blood donation to help increase supplies. (See below to learn more about Wisconsin’s critical blood supply shortage.)
  • If you have a family member currently in the hospital, ask how you can help with smaller tasks so that hospital staff can focus on essential medical care. 

We have entered a critical time. Please help us work together to protect our most vulnerable patients, while reducing the overwhelming pressure currently facing our state’s health care system and its workers. Our hospitals are in crisis, and each of us can do our part to help.