COVID-19 Deaths Increasing
The current rate of disease is unsustainable for local hospitals.
COVID-19 related deaths are rising in Milwaukee County, while cases and hospitalizations continue to set new record highs.
When discussing the progression of the disease, public health officials often call deaths a lagging indicator because of how long it takes for a patient with COVID-19 to develop life-threatening symptoms. Typically, during a surge, first cases rise, then hospitalizations, then deaths.
Rausch has been working with a team of epidemiologists from the Medical College of Wisconsin and faculty from UW-Milwaukee on a weekly report tracking COVID-19 locally. Their latest report shows that cases, hospitalizations, and now deaths, are all going up in the county.
Right now, there are approximately 418 people hospitalized with COVID-19, said Dr. Ben Weston, director of Medical Services for Milwaukee County. “We barely crossed 200 hospitalizations at any other point earlier in the pandemic,” he said.
Cases have been rising since September, when the latest spike began, and now the seven day average for cases in the county is more than two times higher than what it was during the last peak in July. The current rise is being experienced by both adults and children in the county.
Rausch said COVID-19 is “heading to levels that we just can’t simply comprehend.”
This is due to “sustained community wide transmission,” Rausch said. Since early September, the transmission rate has remained above 1.0. This means that for the past two months, every newly infected person is transmitting the disease to more than one person on average.
Every population group in the county is experiencing sharp increases in COVID-19 cases, but it is young people aged 25-39 that are, by far and away, seeing the highest rates of disease.
It is the county’s older population, though, aged 80 and older, that are bearing the brunt of the disease’s more serious effects. As they are experiencing the highest rate of hospitalization and death.
Testing has been going up, which is a positive sign. In fact, the Milwaukee Health Department’s three testing sites have been operating well above their intended testing capacity, said Marlaina Jackson, interim health commissioner.
But despite a massive increase in testing, the county’s positivity rate, which measures what percentage of tests are coming back positive, continues to go up. The positivity rate over the past week was 16.3%. The week before it was 14%. And the week before that it was 11.1%. The state average is above 30%.
The peak of this latest spike in disease is currently nowhere in sight. Weston pointed out that cases are not even increasing at a steady rate, rather, the rate of new cases continues to accelerate. What Milwaukee needs is a flattening of the curve, instead, as Weston said, the county is seeing a “steepening of the curve.”
Area hospitals aren’t running out of room or beds, yet. But if the current trend in the disease continues, “No hospital can keep up if the numbers continue to rise at as fast a rate, and frankly as accelerating a rate, as we’re now seeing.”
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