Graham Kilmer

COVID-19 Spreading Faster Out State Than In Milwaukee County

COVID-19 cases are growing slower in Milwaukee County, compared to the WOW counties and the rest of the state.

By - May 29th, 2020 01:38 pm
Trend in COVID-19 doubling times. Image from Milwaukee County COVID-19 Epidemiology Intel Team.

Trend in COVID-19 doubling times. Image from Milwaukee County COVID-19 Epidemiology Intel Team.

The latest data from an epidemiological team tracking the COVID-19 pandemic in Milwaukee County shows that cases are on the rise, but they’re multiplying slower than they are in suburban counties and the rest of the state.

“Case counts continue to climb,” said Darren Rausch, Director of the Greenfield Health Department, who is working with a team of epidemiological researchers from the Medical College of Wisconsin in tracking the COVID-19 pandemic locally.

Starting in the middle of April, there has been a steady increase in the number of new COVID-19 cases every day, but that growth rate has leveled off in recent days. Rausch cautioned that leveling could be due to pending results from tests.

Rausch said, anecdotally, that in recent days there has been a spike in new cases identified by public health officers. “And I know many colleagues throughout the county had some record-high number of positive cases yesterday,” he said.

Based on testing data, COVID-19 is spreading slower in Milwaukee County  than the rest of state and the surrounding WOW counties (Waukesha, Ozaukee and Washington). Milwaukee County’s doubling rate, the period of time for the case load to double, is 23 days. It’s 17 days in the WOW counties and 19 days across the state.

“I think that shows that there’s significantly more disease, more COVID-19 disease in the state in the recent month than there has been in the past,” Rausch said.

The municipalities in Milwaukee County were among the last to roll back local health orders, and the City of Milwaukee is still maintaining its order.

Information from the state released Thursday indicates cases and hospitalizations are trending up, but disease-caused deaths are trending down. However, deaths are not an accurate indicator of what’s happening with the COVID-19 pandemic in real time in a community.

Dr. Ben Weston, director of medical services for Milwaukee County, said it could be nearly a month before cases of COVID-19 contracted today begin to show up as recorded COVID-19 deaths. “And so probably the first thing we see there are the uptick in cases, and then we start to see an uptick in hospitalizations and then eventually we start seeing an uptick in deaths,” he said.

Unfortunately, another metric is “trending in the wrong direction,” Rausch said. Despite increases in testing in recent weeks, the percent of those tests that come back positive is trending up.

The reproductive rate in Milwaukee County is currently at approximately 1.0. That means that for every case of COVID-19, that person is expected to infect at least one other person. 

At the start of the pandemic, Milwaukee County’s reproductive rate was as high as 3.5. But with the start of social distancing, and then the state Safer At Home order, the reproductive rate trended down, going below one briefly in early April. But the figure again began to climb, hitting 1.2 in mid-May. It has now fallen. A value below one would indicate the spread of the disease in the community is shrinking.


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