Graham Kilmer
MKE County

COVID-19 Trending Terribly in Milwaukee

Cases are rising and show no sign of slowing down.

By - Oct 29th, 2020 06:06 pm

Current seven-day average of cases in Milwaukee County.

COVID-19 in Milwaukee County continues to get worse.

“No matter how you slice the data, we have surpassed every previous peak that we’ve seen over the past seven months within the last couple weeks,” said Darren Rausch, director of the Greenfield Health Department.

Rausch has been working with a team of epidemiologists from the Medical College of Wisconsin and faculty from UW-Milwaukee to develop a weekly report tracking COVID-19 locally. Their latest report shows that, despite already outpacing previous peaks, disease continues to spread rapidly and is showing no signs of slowing down.

The city and the suburbs are seeing more new cases on a daily basis than ever before. The city is currently averaging 325 cases a day, the suburbs 200, Rausch said. And while cases are lower among children, cases are trending up at a similar rate. Looking at new cases, Rausch said there doesn’t appear to be any “end in sight” or even “leveling off” if current trends continue.

Hospitalizations are also higher than ever, with 325 people in the county hospitalized with COVID-19, said Dr. Ben Weston, medical director for Milwaukee County during a media briefing Thursday. And hospitalizations are trending up.

Because older, more medically fragile people are more likely to develop complications from COVID-19, this latest peak has been hitting the oldest among us the hardest. And despite not being the drivers of disease, people aged 80 or older have a rate of hospitalization that is two times higher than the next age group, and climbing.

Deaths are holding steady for now locally, though they have been going up around the rest of the state. Deaths are what public health officials call a lagging indicator of disease. This is because of the time it takes for a person to develop dangerous symptoms that may take their life. Typically during a spike, first you see cases rise, then hospitalizations, then deaths.

The transmission rate in the county has been above 1.0 since the beginning of September, when transmission rates went well above 1.0. This means that each new case of COVID-19 is likely to transmit the case to one or more people. Recently, the transmission rate in the suburbs has been higher than in the city.

Testing has been going up for more than a month now, which public health officials say is good. However, the positivity rate, which measures what percentage of tests come back positive for COVID-19 has also been going up. “This is a bad combination that indicates very high disease activity in our community,” Weston noted.

The positivity rate for the past week was 14% in Milwaukee County. For reference, two months ago, before this latest spike in disease began, when the county was suppressing the disease locally, the positivity rate was hovering around 5%.

The rate of disease is rising for every age group in the county. But is highest among young adults ages 25 to 39 that continue to drive the disease in the county. The group is followed by people 40-59 years old and those 18-24 years  old.

The rate of disease among Hispanic or Latinx people in the county is more than two times higher than the next highest population subgroup, which is currently the county’s Asian residents. White residents still have the highest number of cases. And Black people continue to have the highest rate of hospitalizations and death, despite not having the most cases or the highest rates of disease.

The burden of disease in the county is so high right now that public health officials are having to triage contact tracing and disease investigation, Rausch said. They are prioritizing cases for disease investigation and tracing by people who live in high-risk living settings, by age, looking where there might be people with the most complications, then individuals that may be in K-12 school settings and finally colleges and workplaces.

If you test positive, public health officials may ask you to contact people you’ve been in contact with and tell them to quarantine as they may not be able to get to them fast enough, Rausch said, “the numbers of cases right now are overwhelming.”

Doctor Asks Public To Do Its Part

During the media briefing Thursday, Dr. Greg Brusko, chief clinical health officer with Ascension Wisconsin, said healthcare providers are very concerned about the latest spike. “We understand very well that the public is tired,” he said. “Frankly so are we and so are all our associates.”

“You trust us to take care of you when you’re sick, right?,” Brusko said. “We ask you to trust us when we say the following, individually everyone of you has the power, the power to keep yourself safe, the power to keep everyone around you safe, and frankly it’s pretty simple and really doesn’t cost too much.”

That is, wear a mask, wash your hands, watch your distance and get your flu shot.

“We will be here for you when you need us,” Brusko said. “We’re asking will you join us.”

Read the weekly report here. And the children’s report here.

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Categories: Health, MKE County

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