Graham Kilmer

COVID-19 Growing Fastest in Suburbs

Milwaukee County suburbs outpacing city in transmission rate, but both are climbing.

By - Jul 16th, 2020 08:37 pm
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2019 Novel Coronavirus. Image by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

2019 Novel Coronavirus. Image by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

COVID-19 is growing rapidly in Milwaukee County, but growing fastest in the suburbs.

Milwaukee County is beginning to see the same trends that other parts of the country, currently dealing with massive caseloads and spiking deaths and hospitalizations.

“The data is definitely trending in the wrong direction,” said Darren Rausch, director of the Greenfield Health Department. Rausch works with a team of epidemiologists from the Medical College of Wisconsin tracking COVID-19 locally.

Their latest weekly report shows some alarming trends. These trends suggest that Milwaukee County could be headed towards a similar fate as the areas of this country that are struggling to deal with rapidly growing cases of the disease, said Dr. Ben Weston, director of medical services.

Transmission rates in both the City of Milwaukee and the suburbs are spiking, with the suburbs now outpacing the city. Notably, Rausch said, the suburbs are seeing the highest number of cases they’ve seen throughout the entire pandemic.

The spiking transmission rate is quickly approaching the spike seen in early May.

The transmission rate (reproductive rate or R value) in Milwaukee County is approximately 1.4, meaning that for each new case of COVID-19 that person will, on average, pass the virus on to 1.4 other people. This transmission rate means the virus is not stable, but rather increasing in the county.

The suburbs saw a spike in their transmission rate over the holiday weekend that went above 1.5 on July 3. “The growth rate of COVID in the suburban communities is exceptionally high,” Rausch said.

Young people, aged 18-39, have case numbers and transmission rates that are skyrocketing.

“They’re driving the rates of COVID cases,” Rausch said. County residents aged 18-39 have surpassed older populations to become the group with the highest rate of transmission in the county, and that rate continues to grow.

Testing is rising, but so is the rate of tests that come back positive. Percent positive, held up as an important metric for gauging the virus in real time, has seen an “an upward statistically significant increase,” Rausch said. The percent positive for all tests last week was 8.3 percent. The percent positivity for the entirety of the pandemic so far, in Milwaukee County, is 8.9 percent.

“Each of these items combined with what we’re seeing in the state and much of the country suggest that we may be in for worsening numbers in the coming weeks,” Weston said.

The rate of hospitalization for young people with COVID-19 is up, ever so slightly. But the hospitalization rate for the most vulnerable age groups continues to rise. The U.S., on Thursday, saw the highest number of COVID-19 hospitalizations in over a month, the state also set its own 36-day high.

In the last week, Milwaukee County has seen two deaths related to COVID-19. Recently, low death numbers in Milwaukee County have some questioning the threat the virus poses. Rausch said that while deaths are down, they are still occurring and “these numbers are still people and their deaths are significant.”

Weston said people need to consider the safety of their daily activities, asking themselves questions like “who will you interact with? Where will you be? How long will you be there?”

“A worsening burden of disease often leads to a backstepping in phasing and opening up and increased damage to the economy and the community,” Weston said. “We do have an opportunity as a community and as individuals to slow transmission and prevent worsening the burden of disease.”

In the suburbs, Rausch said there have been “various vigorous conversations about where the rates are going, where they’re trending and whether we need to pull back or maintain the status quo.”

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Categories: Health

3 thoughts on “COVID-19 Growing Fastest in Suburbs”

  1. Mingus says:

    I think that the readers would like to know how and where these infected persons are getting Covid-19?

  2. kmurphy724 says:

    [Mingus] I biked by a park yesterday and saw well over 100 people, mostly kids, playing kickball and other games in close proximity to one another. I didn’t t see any masks. That’s how.

  3. TransitRider says:

    People think that “asymptomatic” COVID is harmless. That may not be true.

    We know, for example, that asymptomatic COVID damages lungs. A study found lung abnormalities (akin to walking pneumonia) on CT scans of the majority of asymptomatic cases. While it’s assumed this damage is reversible, COVID is so new that we just don’t know for sure.

    https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2020/06/23/864536258/we-still-dont-fully-understand-the-label-asymptomatic

    And what about kidney damage?

    We know COVID damages kidneys; in April, NYC hospitals ran out of dialysis machines for COVID patients with severe acute kidney damage. Moderate kidney damage is asymptomatic, but real and sometimes eventually becomes life-threatening; we are born with so much kidney capacity that people can donate one kidney and still live a full life. But, later in life, when kidney capacity drops below a certain point, that damage quickly swings from asymptomatic to existential.

    https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2020/04/19/838103327/shortage-of-dialysis-equipment-leads-to-difficult-decisions-in-new-york-icus

    And, after you get over COVID, is that all, or will it come back (with symptoms) years later (like herpes)? Could it return as something else (like shingles, chicken pox’s terrifying encore)?

    This disease is so new and so unknown that your best strategy, by far, is to avoid catching it in the first place. Even “asymptomatic” cases may well end up being problematic years later.

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