Brief

COVID-19 continues decline, remains ‘critically high’ across state

By: - February 4, 2022 5:29 am
At home COVID-19 test box

At home COVID-19 test box | Laura Olson, States Newsroom

COVID-19 cases are now shrinking dramatically in number, the state health department reported Thursday, but the spread of the coronavirus remains critically high across the state and hospitals continue to be under stress.

On average there have been about 4,700 new cases a day for the last seven days, said Deb Standridge, deputy secretary for the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) in an online media briefing Thursday.

That is down significantly from a seven-day average of more than 18,000 new cases a day Jan. 19. “So the good news is we’re going in the right direction,” said Dr. Ryan Westergaard, chief medical officer in the DHS Bureau of Communicable Diseases.

Nevertheless, he added, precautionary measures such as wearing masks indoors outside the home and maintaining physical distance from others are still warranted.

“When the virus is transmitting at high levels, it’s going to be in our collective interest, and people’s individual interest, to wear a mask when you’re out,” Westergaard said. That will be less urgent when transmission levels get low, he added, to perhaps 500 or fewer new cases on average a day — 10% of the current infection rate.

Hospitalizations have begun to decline but still remain  high, with intensive care units more than 90% full, including COVID-19 patients and patients admitted for other illnesses or conditions, according to the Wisconsin Hospital Association.

Analysis of recent COVID-19 tests around the state has begun to detect a handful that show the presence of the newest variant of the virus — an offshoot of the currently dominant omicron variant. The new version, dubbed BA.2, appears to spread even more easily than the original omicron, Westergaard said, which itself spread much more quickly than previous variants of the virus.

While the variants may more easily break through to infect people who have had a complete COVID-19 vaccination, including booster shots, the vaccine remains a strong defense against more severe illness, hospitalization and death, according to public health practitioners.

The vaccination rate in Wisconsin is continuing to increase slowly, according to DHS. As of Thursday, the agency reported that 63.4% of state residents have started the vaccine, and 59.5% are “fully vaccinated,” meaning they have received one dose of a single-shot vaccine or two doses of a two-shot vaccine.

Getting more people vaccinated, and extra booster doses for those who have not yet had them, remain the key to further slowing the spread of the virus, Westergaard said.

Standridge said that after a period in the recent surge when testing resources were scarce, DHS has been stocking up on testing supplies and connecting with new test vendors to prepare in the event of a new surge that demands more testing again.

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Erik Gunn
Erik Gunn

Deputy Editor Erik Gunn reports and writes on work and the economy, health policy and related subjects, for the Wisconsin Examiner. He spent 24 years as a freelance writer for Milwaukee Magazine, Isthmus, The Progressive, BNA Inc., and other publications, winning awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, beat coverage, business writing, and commentary. An East Coast native, he previously covered labor for The Milwaukee Journal after reporting for newspapers in upstate New York and northern Illinois. He's a graduate of Beloit College (English Comp.) and the Columbia School of Journalism. Off hours he is the Examiner's resident Springsteen and Jackson Browne fanboy and model railroad nerd.

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