Early numbers show COVID-19 uptick as officials urge more people to get vaccinated

By: - July 12, 2021 5:45 pm
Double masked teen getting vaccine

Teen getting a vaccine (CDC)

New COVID-19 cases appear to be climbing again, sparking concern that the spreading mutant versions of the coronavirus are making inroads in Wisconsin.

As of Monday, the percentage of tests that were positive for the virus had doubled from three weeks ago, according to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS).

DHS spokeswoman Elizabeth Goodsitt said Monday that the most recent two weeks reported at any one time are preliminary, and that lags in data reporting add some uncertainty to the most immediate trends.

Nevertheless, state health officials are watching with concern as cases increase elsewhere and as the pace of vaccination slows down. A growing number of the new cases are likely to be from mutant forms of the virus that transmit more easily, state and national health officials have reported, including the variant labeled Delta.

“Across the country, we are seeing increases in the proportion of cases identified as the Delta variant,” said Julie Willems Van Dijk, Wisconsin’s deputy health director, in an online news conference on Friday, July 9. “And in places like southwest Missouri and Arkansas, we are seeing COVID disease surge — surges that are once again overfilling hospital beds and ICU’s beyond capacity.”

So far that hasn’t happened in Wisconsin. The Wisconsin Hospital Association reported Monday that 100 people in the state are hospitalized with COVID-19, with 32 of them in intensive care units. The number in the hospital went up by 20 people in the last day, however.

Each day, public health practitioners take an average of the number of newly confirmed cases for the past seven days. That seven-day average provides a clearer picture of trends and their trajectory, which might be harder to detect in the daily fluctuation of numbers.

On Monday, the seven-day average of positive tests for the virus was 1.6% of all tests administered. On June 22, the seven-day average for new positive tests was 0.7%. Those numbers could change, however, as some data gets corrected, Goodsitt said.

Slightly more than half of all Wisconsin residents — 50.8% — have received at least one dose of the vaccine, and 48% have completed the vaccine, DHS reported Monday.

The vaccination rate continues to vary widely across the state, however. DHS last week updated the webpage where it publishes vaccination data to show the rates of vaccination for individual census tracts across the state.

“We see painfully low rates of vaccination in urban neighborhoods, and many of those neighborhoods are places where people of color live,” Van Dijk said Friday. Those areas “need to be a focus of our efforts.”

Rural parts of the state also show low vaccination rates, and are important targets for public health outreach, she added.

“Those are the places that — let’s be very frank — they are at risk if the Delta variant takes hold, which it likely will in our state,” said Van Dijk. “And those people are at risk of disease, hospitalization and death. And we have a cure for that — it’s called vaccine.”

The number of so-called breakthrough cases of COVID-19 infections in people who have been completely vaccinated has been about 1% of all COVID-19 infections since the start of 2021, according to DHS officials. National data has also indicated that if vaccinated people do get infected, they are much less likely to require hospitalization or to die compared with unvaccinated people.

DHS officials believe that there are still people who are willing to be vaccinated but haven’t yet received the shot. Some may be waiting until one or more of the vaccines have gotten final approval from the federal government, Van Dijk said. Currently the three vaccine types are being provided under an emergency use authorization, but two of the manufacturers have applied for full approval.

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Erik Gunn
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.