Graham Kilmer

COVID-19 Increasing in Milwaukee County, Again

Data shows a spike in cases and transmission of the coronavirus. Presumed cause is universities.

By - Sep 18th, 2020 01:08 pm
One week reproductive number for Milwaukee County

One week reproductive number for Milwaukee County

Milwaukee County is no longer suppressing COVID-19.

The latest data shows that the transmission rate in the city of Milwaukee recently shot up above 1.0. That means, on average, every confirmed case of COVID-19 is passing the disease to one or more people.

The transmission rate went “well above” 1.0, nearly hitting 1.5 earlier this month, said Darren Rausch, director of the Greenfield Health Department. The countywide transmission rate was up close to 1.25. The disease was previously being suppressed.

Rausch has been working with a team of epidemiologists from the Medical College of Wisconsin to track COVID-19 locally. And their latest report shows that the seven-day average of daily new cases is also going up.

Milwaukee County COVID-19 cases as of Sep. 15. From county weekly epidemiology report.

“It may be indicative of a slight upswing in cases throughout the county,” Rausch said. But this new upswing is visible just in the past week. “Next week’s data will tell if we truly are swinging up or if this was what we called in the past a blip in the data.”

Rausch presented the latest report during a media briefing Thursday. The same day that the state of Wisconsin reported its highest number of new COVID-19 cases in a single day with more than 2,000 cases, which “wignifies a continued surge of COVID-19 elsewhere in the state and at rates that are probably a lot larger than some of what we’ve seen in Milwaukee County over the last few weeks,” Rausch said.

And this bump can’t be due to increased testing because testing across the state has been steadily dropping for more than a month.

In Milwaukee County, young people 18-39 continue to have the most cases and the highest rates of disease. “So, could presume [the uptick] is largely due to the start of the academic year. And more cases being identified in Milwaukee area colleges and universities,” Rausch said. But 18-39 is a large age group. So it will take more consideration before the rise can solely be attributed to college students.

Because of the up to 14-day incubation period, cases contracted over Labor Day weekend would be starting to show up right now, Rausch said.

Right now, young people 18-39 also have the highest number of hospitalizations, higher than 80 and older age group, which has the highest risk. Those 80 and older still have the highest rate of hospitalization. But, “The sheer number of individuals [18-39] getting hospitalized is a concern,” Rausch said.

COVID-19 Incidence Rate

COVID-19 Incidence Rate

“Going into the fall, going into the school season we knew there would be ups and downs with our COVID numbers both locally and as a state,” said Dr. Ben Weston, director of emergency medical services for the county. “But it feels like this is starting to become a turning point.”

“I think it’s pretty clear that it’s the college campuses that are driving this more than everything,” said Mayor Tom Barrett. “And I think that there really has to be a redoubling of efforts to make sure that college students are taking this seriously.”

Public health officials are specifically seeing “concerning trends” related to universities, Weston said. He noted a census tract around UWM saw it’s COVID-19 cases more than triple in a single week.

Between September 9th and 15th, an incidence map of COVID-19 cases in the county shows the disease is erupting in the city on the East Side and Downtown. Other hotspot areas include the city’s South Side and surburban communities of Franklin, Whitefish Bay and Shorewood.

Testing in Milwaukee County continues to go down. And the 14-day positive case rate, which is the percentage of cases that come back positive, has gone up. The most recent data shows the positive rate is higher than the previous week, coming in at 5.5 percent over 4.2 percent. The figure has eclipsed 12 percent statewide.

Read the weekly report for Milwaukee County here and for children here.

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More about the Coronavirus Pandemic

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Categories: Health

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