COVID-19 Growing Fastest in Suburbs
Milwaukee County suburbs outpacing city in transmission rate, but both are climbing.
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.
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.
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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