COVID-19 Numbers Approaching Recent Peak
Not enough testing being accessed in the City of Milwaukee.
For the last two weeks local public health officials have been warning that cases were rising in Milwaukee County and that we were likely in the early stages of a another COVID-19 spike.
Now cases are clearly spiking and health officials are warning that we may be on track to match or exceed the spike in cases we saw in the spring and summer.
In early September the transmission rate in the county went above 1.0, and it has been there ever since. This metric measures how many new cases of COVID-19 will develop from a single identified case. A rate above 1.0 means the disease is no longer being suppressed. In Milwaukee County, the current transmission rate is approximately 1.1.
This transmission rate is fueling community spread of the disease and the rise in cases. “We could be very rapidly both in the City of Milwaukee and the suburbs reaching levels that we haven’t seen since July,” said Darren Rausch, director of the Greenfield Health Department.
Rausch has been working with a team of epidemiologists from the Medical College of Wisconsin to track the disease locally.
According to a weekly report compiled by the team, COVID-19 testing is rising again in Milwaukee County after months of steadily declining. But the county’s weekly positivity rate, which measures how many tests come back positive in a given week, is again going up. Two weeks ago that rate was 5.5%. This week it is 7.3%. Though, the 14-day average for the positivity rate is holding steady.
Despite rising testing in the county, much of the city remains under-tested, Rausch said. An incidence map of the city shows huge swaths with as little as 1-2 tests per 1,000 people.
And, young people are still driving the disease, as they have been since the start of summer. Particularly, young people aged 25-39, who have the most cases and the highest rate of COVID-19 in the county. However, the rate of COVID-19 among college aged young people, 18-24 is rising fast.
In the city, testing is low, but cases are high. An incidence map of COVID-19 shows the East Side, Downtown and the South Side as hotspots.
Deaths in Milwaukee County are not rising, but instead holding steady. However, in the rest of the state, deaths are going up. As is the disease generally. The state has posted record daily numbers of cases and hospitalizations in recent weeks.
Dr. Ben Weston, director of medical services for the county, said Wisconsin, and Milwaukee, is headed into a “perfect storm” for spreading the disease. The colder weather is pushing people indoors where the virus is known to more easily spread. And with cold weather also comes the flu season.
As we move into the next spike in disease, after lower disease burdens lulled us into a sense of complacency leading to loosened restrictions, we can expect to see another cycle play out. That is, the cycle of higher cases leading to higher hospitalization numbers leading to higher deaths.
Weston and Rausch both maintain that everyone needs to take responsibility for their actions right now. The cycles of disease have shown that individual choices, adding up to collective action or inaction, affect the burden of COVD-19 in our community and the number of lives that are lost.
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