Graham Kilmer

Milwaukee County Struggling To Pass COVID-19 Peak

After a peak in early April there was a drop in COVID-19 transmission, but the rate again climbed

By - May 1st, 2020 12:29 pm
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3D medical illustration of 2019 Novel Coronavirus. Image by https://www.scientificanimations.com [CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]

3D medical illustration of 2019 Novel Coronavirus. Image by https://www.scientificanimations.com [CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]

Milwaukee County was effectively “flattening the curve” of COVID-19. The spread of the virus appeared to have slowed, but new data sends mixed signals.

Data collected by an epidemiological team from the Medical College of Wisconsin shows that in early April the county experienced a COVID-19 peak, then what followed was “a little bit of leveling” with an uptick over the last several days, said Darren Rausch, Director of the Greenfield Health Department, who is working with the epidemiological team.

“We have seen a slight increase in confirmed cases after having observed a decrease directly prior,” their report reads. The report was compiled based upon data collected from March 12th to April 28th.

Rausch, speaking during a media briefing Thursday, said that the recent uptick is likely due to a combination of increased testing and an increasing transmission rate. “We certainly see that transmission rate going up as well,” he said.

After the peak in early April, between April 6th and 14th, the county saw its lowest rates of growth for the virus, called the reproductive rate. But starting April 15th the transmission rate ticked up slightly and has not receded.

As of Friday morning, May 1st, Milwaukee County has recorded 3,045 cases and 177 deaths. 

Milwaukee County daily number of confirmed COVID-19 cases

Milwaukee County daily number of confirmed COVID-19 cases

Without a vaccine or effective treatment, social distancing is the only thing flattening that curve. County officials have repeated this daily during their briefings, hammering on a “stay home, save lives” message.

Coronavirus testing is increasing across the state. It was announced this week that a number of community health clinics would begin operating drive-thru testing sites. For over two weeks Department of Health Services guidance has directed physicians to test anyone with symptoms. Whereas previously, they were limiting testing only to those that needed hospitalization or were symptomatic healthcare workers.

As Rausch noted, part of the uptick could be related to increased testing. Recently, mass testing was done at the Milwaukee County House of Correction (HOC) to get a handle on an outbreak occurring at the facility. Rausch said, looking at the data, there were less cases this past week than the week prior. “But we also know in [the prior week] a lot of house of corrections tests were in the testing pool.”

Looking at the uptick, Rausch said, “I do think it’s a combination of both,” increased testing and increased transmission.

Dr. Ben Weston, medical services director for Milwaukee County, said the metric to closely watch as testing increases is the percentage of cases that come back positive. That metric indicates that statewide we are experiencing an uptick in the virus.

As Urban Milwaukee reported, Thursday the percentage of tests that came back positive was above 10 percent for the first time in five days. In Milwaukee County it was 31 percent.

A county dashboard reports an average positive test rate of 17.4 percent over the length of the outbreak. In the seven days ending April 28th, the positive test rate was 14.8 percent.

Even though the virus continues to spread, the rate at which it is doubling the number of new cases has slowed. The doubling rate in Milwaukee County is currently 17.8 days, much improved from the early days of the pandemic when the doubling rate was in the low single digits.

Charts

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