MILWAUKEE — Wisconsin seems to be in a bit of a holding pattern with the pandemic.
What You Need To Know
- Wisconsin’s case rates have dipped in recent weeks, and are almost 20% lower than the middle of September
- Kids under 18 are still testing positive more than any other age group
- Hospitalizations and deaths are still high, but are leveling off
- Even with Pfizer boosters available, the weekly vaccine pace has reached its lowest level since December
After the delta variant spurred a steep rise in cases heading into the fall, Wisconsin’s infections have started to dip slightly. Hospitalizations and deaths have leveled off a bit, but remain much higher than over the summer.
And vaccinations are still happening, but at some of the slowest rates we’ve seen so far — even with booster doses added to the mix.
Here, we break down more of the latest news to know about COVID-19 in the Badger State.
Are we past the delta peak?
Nationwide, COVID-19 infection rates have fallen from their delta-driven surges. The daily case average across the U.S. has dropped around 47% since the start of September, according to CDC data.
Wisconsin lagged a bit in reaching that downturn: The state was still seeing its cases on the rise through much of September, per DHS data, even as cases declined in other parts of the country. But the Badger State’s numbers have finally started to tick down in recent weeks.
As of Thursday, the seven-day average for confirmed cases sat at 2,296 — down around 19% from the state’s mid-September highs.
“Overall, we’re seeing promising trends that are mirroring much of the country,” Dr. Ben Weston, the chief health policy advisor for Milwaukee County, said at a briefing this week.
But even as infections have headed in the right direction, they’re still high, especially compared to this summer’s lull. When July kicked off, Wisconsin was averaging just 74 cases per day — a rate 30 times lower than what we’re seeing now.
The DHS reports that most counties remain at a “very high” level of disease activity, while 16 counties are in the most extreme “critically high” category. Waushara and Marquette Counties were seeing the highest-case rates as of this week’s data.
Kids still leading in case numbers
With the school year underway and many kids excluded from the vaccine rollout, young people are still seeing high COVID-19 rates in Wisconsin.
Children under 18 are the leading age group for new cases, as they have been since mid-August, according to DHS data. In Milwaukee, kids were making up around 30% of new cases at the start of October, according to a county report.
More than 1,300 students in Milwaukee Public Schools have tested positive since the summer, according to a district dashboard.
Most kids aren’t getting too sick, though: Only 1% of COVID-19 patients under 19 have been hospitalized in Wisconsin, the DHS reports. And cases for kids seem to be reaching a plateau, said Dr. Smriti Khare, president of primary care at Children’s Wisconsin, at a Milwaukee County briefing.
With Halloween coming up quickly, health officials have said it’s fine for kids to go trick-or-treating this year. Khare suggested a few ways to stay COVID cautious while enjoying the holiday — like wearing masks, bringing plenty of hand sanitizer and keeping celebrations outdoors.
Severe outcomes at a plateau — but a high one
As the delta surge has appeared to lose steam in Wisconsin, hospitalizations and deaths aren’t climbing much anymore. They aren’t falling much either, though.
As of Wednesday, there were 1,156 hospitalized COVID-19 patients across the state, according to Wisconsin Hospital Association data. That’s similar to what hospitals have seen since the start of the month.
“I think that’s good news,” Dr. John Raymond, president and CEO of the Medical College of Wisconsin, told Spectrum News 1 of the plateau in hospitalizations. “But we also need to be careful that we don’t celebrate prematurely.”
Like cases, hospitalizations remain much higher than over the summer. At the start of July, there were just 91 coronavirus patients in Wisconsin’s hospitals.
Around 91% of all hospital beds and 94% of ICU beds across the state were full as of Wednesday, according to the DHS.
The daily death toll has fluctuated since the start of the month. More than 100 COVID-19 patients have died so far in October.
September was the deadliest month of the pandemic since January — when the state was still feeling the effects of its biggest surge last fall. According to DHS reports, 383 Wisconsinites died from coronavirus in September. That’s more than the tolls from June, July and August combined.
Most of the Wisconsinites facing these severe outcomes have something in common: They aren’t fully vaccinated. The latest DHS data — looking at numbers from the month of August — found that those who were not fully vaccinated were around 11 times more likely to die of COVID-19, and around nine times more likely to be hospitalized.
Vaccination pace lags, even with booster approval
Since the end of September, many Wisconsinites have been eligible to get a third dose of Pfizer vaccine.
Per CDC and DHS guidance, residents who are at high risk of being exposed to COVID-19, or getting really sick — like older adults, those with certain health conditions or frontline workers — can now get a booster shot to add to their immune protection.
Even with the booster rollout, though, the pace of shots in arms in Wisconsin is about as slow as it’s ever been.
In the week of Oct. 3, vaccinators in Wisconsin gave out around 36,000 doses, according to DHS data. That’s the lowest weekly total since December 2020, when only the highest-priority residents were eligible for their shots.
Around 3.2 million Wisconsinites — or 55% of people in the state — are fully vaccinated, the DHS reports. But that still leaves almost half of the state without full protection, including the kids under 12 who are not yet eligible to get their shots.
More booster doses could be added to the mix in the near future: An FDA advisory panel is meeting this week to discuss whether people who got Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines should also be eligible for a booster dose. The CDC’s advisory group is set to take on the same topic next week.
Still, officials said the No. 1 priority is getting shots in arms for those who aren’t vaccinated yet. And the state is especially making an effort to improve health equity during the pandemic: The DHS announced a new round of grants this week for projects that break down barriers to health access.
In Milwaukee, more COVID-19 shots are now going toward vulnerable groups than at the start of the vaccine rollout, Weston said. But communities of color continue to face lower-vaccination rates and higher-disease rates, he said.
“We’re making progress,” Weston said. “But make no mistake, there is more to be done.”
(this story/news/article has not been edited by PostX News staff and is published from a syndicated feed)