Graham Kilmer
MKE County

COVID-19’s Spread Not Slowing Down

COVID-19's spread continues to accelerate, as hospital resources dwindle.

By - Nov 20th, 2020 10:08 am
2019 Novel Coronavirus. Image by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

2019 Novel Coronavirus. Image by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In recent weeks COVID-19’s spread has continually accelerated.

Darren Rausch, director of the Greenfield Health Department, has been working with a team of epidemiologists from the Medical College of Wisconsin and faculty from UW-Milwaukee on a weekly report tracking the disease locally.

Thursday, during a media briefing, he said “At the risk of sounding like a broken record” the county continues to face a couple of significant challenges with COVID-19.

This first is that there continues to be a “sharply increasing trajectory of disease.” And the second is that hospitalizations continue to go up as well. Unfortunately, if something has changed in recent weeks, it’s that deaths have gone up, particularly in the suburbs.

Recently, the seven-day average of new cases in the city of Milwaukee was approximately 650 cases per day. In the suburbs, the average has been 450 cases per day. Milwaukee County, like the state, has been seeing more cases than ever for two months now. And these latest averages are higher than they were the week before.

Milwaukee County daily number of COVID-19 cases

Milwaukee County daily number of COVID-19 cases

The data mapped out in the latest report shows cases going down in recent days. But Rausch said the team believes this to be an anomaly caused by a delay in reporting cases.

Right now, there are more than 500 people in Milwaukee County hospitalized with COVID-19, according to data from the Milwaukee County Office of Emergency Management.

The local COVID-19 data report shows the transmission rate in Milwaukee County remains above 1.0. This means that, on average, every newly infected person with COVID-19 is transmitting the disease to one or more people. The county won’t be suppressing the disease until the transmission rate is back below 1.0.

The number of people accessing COVID-19 tests in the county continues to climb. This past week, the positivity rate, which measures the percentage of tests that come back positive went down compared to the previous week. However, as Rausch noted, the data this week is likely affected by a reporting delay.

The most current positivity rate was 16%. Which is still significantly higher than the average positivity rate for the entire pandemic. The state rate is approximately 35%.

White people continue to have the most cases and hospitalizations. And Hispanics still have the highest rate of disease. Recently, the county’s Asian population surpassed the Black population and now has the highest rate of hospitalization. But the Black population still has the highest rate of death from COVID-19.

As the disease continues to spread, unchecked, public health officials and hospital systems are bracing for a surge — within the surge — that is expected to follow Thanksgiving. 

Elected officials and public health officials are pleading with the public to not hold traditional holiday celebrations. To limit events to people you live with, or at the least, immediate family members. And if you are going to a gathering, they say you should be quarantining, and should have started a week ago.

Weston said hospital capacity is tight right now. He noted that there are entire regions of the state where the number of ICU beds is in the single digits.

Milwaukee County and southeastern Wisconsin have large hospital systems, and the alternative care facility. But the region also has a large population.

“I’m not sure how much more planning can honestly go into place for a surge that comes after Thanksgiving,” Weston said.

Simply put, change needs to occur. Hospitals and healthcare workers will not be able to keep up with an ever-worsening trend in disease, Weston said.

Read the county report here. And the children’s COVID-19 report here.

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Categories: Health

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