Hospitalizations Going Up, Transmission Rate Going Down
Milwaukee still has a high disease burden, but signs of slowing emerge.
Rising transmission of COVID-19 in September has yielded to rising hospitalizations in October, both in Milwaukee and the rest of Wisconsin.
On Thursday, the state Department of Health Services reported the highest number of active COVID-19 hospitalizations since the pandemic began.
And in the past three weeks, COVID-19 hospitalizations in Milwaukee County have been “following a poor trend” and more than doubled going from 77 to 165, said Dr. Ben Weston, director of emergency medical services for Milwaukee County, in a Thursday afternoon press briefing.
Hospitalization rates in the county are correlating to age. That is, the older a person is, the higher the rate of hospitalization. A weekly report compiled by epidemiologists from the Medical College of Wisconsin tracking COVID-19 locally shows that people aged 80 or older, even 60-79, have a much higher rate of hospitalization. This, despite not having the highest rate of disease in the county, which belongs to young people aged 25-39.
Hospitalizations are a lagging indicator, as it typically takes a while for the virus to make someone ill enough to send them to the hospital. So it tracks that this metric is rising after a month of record case numbers across the state and rising cases in Milwaukee County.
The same pattern that shows up in hospitalizations shows up in deaths, . Older people have a much higher rate of death from COVID-19. And notably, this past week’s report includes data on deaths that shows there have been 10 deaths among people aged 18-39 in the county. Rausch said they had suppressed this data until now to “keep confidentiality and privacy laws in check.”
Cases continue to rise in Milwaukee County, however, this peak has not yet reached the levels of disease seen during the two previous peaks.
There was a significant increase in the transmission rate in September. “Some of that might have been related to end of summer activities, some of that might have been related to Labor Day festivities, some of it might have been related to schools and colleges and university reopenings,” said Darren Rausch, director of the Greenfield Health Department, who has been working with the team from MCW.
The good news is that Milwaukee County is once again suppressing COVID-19, based upon the latest data. Over the past week, the transmission rate for the disease was less than 1.0. That means that for every confirmed case of the disease it’s likely the virus will be transmitted to less than one other person. It also means the county is once again suppressing the disease.
Looking at incidence maps of COVID-19 in Milwaukee County, it’s clear that some of the areas with the highest incidence of COVID-19 also have the lowest rates of testing.
Cases are still surging in the county’s white population, Rausch said, having passed both the Black and Hispanic populations in terms of cumulative cases. However, Hispanics in the county continue to have the highest rate of COVID-19. And Black people continue to suffer the highest rate of hospitalization and death.
While it is other areas of the state that are driving the record numbers of cases in Wisconsin, Rausch said, every county is experiencing a state-defined “high” burden of disease. A DHS report from Wednesday shows 55 of 72 counties with a rate classified as “very high.”
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