COVID-19 vaccine supplies improve, but positive infection rate is slowly rising

    COVID 19 vaccine gloved hand holding vial
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    While vaccine supplies have generally held steady and state health officials hope to see them increase, the Department of Health Services (DHS) is watching warily as COVID-19 infections creep up again.

    “We are watching the number of cases very, very closely,” said Deputy Health Secretary Julie Willems Van Dijk at a media briefing on Thursday. Because of that, she said, families should continue to exercise caution  and avoid gathering in large groups, gathering indoors or travel.

    Vaccine delivery continues to improve, with the state on track to receive about 300,000 first doses of vaccine a week, she said. But with more than 2 million people in the latest group of people authorized for the vaccine — people with chronic health conditions 16 or older — it will continue to take time to get vaccination levels approaching the goal of 80% of the population.

    Vaccine eligibility for the rest of the population by May 1 still appears within reach, she said.

    For Wednesday, the seven-day average for positive COVID-19 tests was 2.5% of the total number of tests given, according to DHS reports. The figure has been climbing steadily since March 10, when the seven-day average was 2% positive.

    The seven-day average for the number of new COVID-19 cases a day stood at 459 on Thursday, up from a seven-day average of 388 new cases on March 10.

    Thursday’s seven-day average is much lower than the “extremely critically, uber-high level of over 6,000 cases a day” in the fall of 2010, Van Dijk said, but it “is still very high.”

    The statewide disease activity scale, updated weekly, registered 106 cases per 100,000 population over a 14-day period — a “high” level of activity, she said.

    “I think in a way, we’ve been lulled into a sense of security here in Wisconsin, because we had it so bad, that just having it bad doesn’t seem too, too awful to us,” Van Dijk said.

    Even with upcoming spring holidays, people should stick to small groups when they gather, and they should gather outside, she said. The risks are compounded by the increases in variants of the virus in surrounding states, including Minnesota and Michigan. “We know that these variants are particularly infectious and we’re seeing in other places, younger people suffering from higher levels of infection,” she said.

     Travel out of state heightens the risk of spreading those variants here.

    “We don’t want to bring more variants into Wisconsin,” Van Dijk said. “And we don’t want to take five steps back, just when we’re at the cusp of things getting a lot better. If we can give ourselves a little bit of patience to keep delivering 300,000 vaccines a week, over the next eight to 10 weeks, we’ll be much farther ahead than we are right now.”

    Erik Gunn
    Senior Reporter Erik Gunn reports and writes on work and the economy, along with 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.