Brief

COVID numbers ease, but public health officials warn they are still too high

By: - February 2, 2022 5:50 am
COVID-19 vaccine vial shot

COVID-19 vaccine vial | Province of British Columbia CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Infections, hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19 are all declining, but the spread of the coronavirus still remains extremely high, according to public health providers.

The seven-day average of new cases reported per day dropped to 5,562 statewide as of Monday, the Department of Health Services (DHS) reported — less than one-third of the most recent peak average of more than 18,000 on Jan. 19.

Hospitalizations still remain high, but are slowly diminishing. The Wisconsin Hospital Association reported Tuesday that 91% of intensive care unit beds in the state are full, an improvement over recent weeks in which the number stood at 95% or more. COVID-19 patients account for about 20% of those hospitalized in ICUs; at the peak of the most recent surge, they were more than one in three.

Dr. Ben Weston
Dr. Ben Weston (Medical College of Wisconsin photo)

Local trends have followed. During a Milwaukee County COVID-19 briefing, Dr. Ben Weston, the county’s chief medical advisor described “encouraging trends” in declining cases and hospitalizations and in the percentage of COVID-19 tests reported as positive.

At the same time, however, “it’s important to remember that the absolute numbers of each of these are still critically high,” Weston said, with all three measures still well above the previous records set in 2020.

“We are moving in the right direction, but the disease burden in the community remains high,” Weston said.

COVID-19 vaccine availability has expanded on two fronts. Pfizer has announced plans to seek federal authorization for its vaccine in children six months to 4 years old. In addition, the Moderna vaccine has gained full approval from the Food and Drug Administration for people 18 or older, DHS announced Tuesday, moving it from the previous emergency use authorization.

The Pfizer vaccine received full approval for people 16 and older in August.

“These approvals are further confirmation that these vaccines are effective and safe,” said DHS Secretary-designee Karen Timberlake in a department statement that urged people to get vaccinated if they have hesitated on the grounds that the vaccine hadn’t yet received a final federal OK.

At the same time, though, yet another variant of the novel coronavirus has emerged and appears to be spreading even faster than the current dominant variant, omicron. The new variant has been classified as a version of omicron. It has been detected in Wisconsin, and it “may complicate our recovery,” Weston said. 

While the new variant is more difficult to distinguish from previous versions of the virus, it remains easily detectable through COVID-19 testing, he said.

Even with the rapidly diminishing cases, “we’re not quite out of the woods yet,” Weston said, with case counts still high and hospitals still crowded if slightly less so, and the new variant. “So the single best thing you can do now, really, is to ensure that you’re vaccinated and, importantly, to make sure you’re boosted,” he added.

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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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