Graham Kilmer
MKE County

Spread of COVID-19 Accelerating

Hospital systems are being pushed close to their limits.

By - Nov 12th, 2020 07:11 pm
Milwaukee County Daily number of COVID-19 cases

Milwaukee County Daily number of COVID-19 cases

The ever-worsening spread of COVID-19 in Milwaukee County is showing no signs of slowing down.

A team of epidemiologists from the Medical College of Wisconsin and faculty from UW-Milwaukee have been working with Milwaukee County’s Unified Emergency Operations Center to track COVID-19 locally.

And their latest report shows that COVID-19 continues to spread uncontrollably in Milwaukee County. Every indicator of disease in the community continues to grow worse. COVID-19 cases aren’t just rising, they are rising at a rate that continues to accelerate, and has been for weeks.

The city of Milwaukee and the county’s suburbs continue to see a “sharply increasing trajectory of disease,” said Darren Rausch, director of the Greenfield Health Department, who works with the team on the report.

The seven-day average of new cases in the city is approximately 2.5 times higher than it was during the previous peak in July. And the suburbs are seeing a seven-day average that’s more than three times higher than what they were seeing during the previous peak.

The city is averaging nearly 500 cases a day, the suburbs nearly 400, Rausch said. 

The transmission rate in the city and the suburbs has largely stayed over 1.0 since the beginning of September, when public health officials first started warning the public about a rising trend in cases. That transmission rate means that for every one person with COVID-19, they are passing it on to one or more people, on average.

Hospitalizations and deaths are going up in Milwaukee County. Both are considered lagging indicators of disease because of the time it takes for a case of COVID-19 to develop severe symptoms. Typically, when cases surge, hospitalizations are the next to go up, followed by deaths.

Last week Urban Milwaukee reported there were more than 400 people in the county hospitalized with COVID-19. Just over the past weekend, the county saw another 55 hospitalizations, said Dr. Ben Weston director of medical services for the county.

Most of the county’s cases are among people ages 25 to 39, followed by those ages 40 to 59 and 18 to 24. But it is the oldest in the community that disproportionately face the gravest consequences.

County residents ages 80 and older have the highest rates of hospitalization and death. Followed by those ages 60 to 79. But the rates for those 80 and older are significantly higher than any other age group.

In the county, white people still have the most cumulative cases of COVID-19. Hispanic people still have the highest rate of COVID-19. Black people still have the highest rate of deaths from the disease.

Testing continues to increase. So much so that local testing sites are operating above capacity, and running out of supplies. Despite this, the county’s positive case rate, which measures what percentage of tests come back positive, has been rising week over week to levels not seen since the early weeks of the pandemic.

Weston said that when percent positivity continues to rise with rising numbers of tests, it is a sure sign that the disease is accelerating. This past week, the positivity rate was 20% in Milwaukee County. The week before it was 16.3%. The week before that it was 14%. And the week before that it was 11.1%. It is over 30% currently for the state as a whole.

As Urban Milwaukee previously reported, the current trend in disease is unsustainable for healthcare workers. This week Governor Tony Evers pleaded with Wisconsin residents to stay home like they did at the start of the pandemic.

Hospital systems are struggling to keep up with the volume of patients, while their own workers are catching the virus or need to quarantine and isolate.

“To be frank,” Weston said. “I think our hospitals are being pushed close to limits, right now.”

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

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Categories: Health, MKE County

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