Graham Kilmer
MKE County

After Stabilizing, COVID-19 Could Be Rising

COVID-19 cases have trended down in recent weeks. Now signs show it could be heading back up.

By - Dec 4th, 2020 04:49 pm
Milwaukee County daily number of COVID-19 cases

Milwaukee County daily number of COVID-19 cases

COVID-19 cases in Milwaukee County appear to be stabilizing and, possibly, heading down. But public health officials are watching closely out of concern for a post-Thanksgiving spike in disease.

The latest data shows that the daily number of new cases has been going down during the past two weeks. This is according to a weekly report from a team of epidemiologists from the Medical College of Wisconsin and faculty from UW-Milwaukee that have been tracking COVID-19 locally since the start of the pandemic.

Darren Rausch, director of the Greenfield Health Department, has been working with the team, and during a media briefing Thursday, he was careful to say the decrease in cases is “apparent” but not certain. Because testing is down, he said, and slow lab reports have been affecting the data recently.

Also, in recent weeks the transmission rate for Milwaukee County dipped below 1.0. This is good because it means that every new case of COVID-19 on average is transmitting the disease to less than one other person. This means the county is suppressing the disease. But, the transmission rate has also started to climb back up in recent days, particularly in the suburbs. “Typically in the past, when we’ve seen that transmission rate start to tick up, that means there are more cases on the horizon,” Rausch said.

The same can be said for the positivity rate, which public health officials often point to as an important metric for COVID-19 activity in the community. The positivity rate started to go down approximately two weeks ago — which appears to be when Milwaukee County experienced its peak for cases, hospitalizations and deaths.

However, the latest positivity rate — for last week — was 15.2%. The previous week was 11.9%. That’s a sharp increase in the positivity rate, especially given the downturn in the number of people accessing testing. Some testing data is still pending, but Rausch said “testing is less than half of what is was last week when we saw a little bit of a dip from the week before.”

“This is not a time to relax mitigation strategies,” he said. “We must continue to remain vigilant about our measures in order to flatten or decrease those disease rates.”

Deaths are a lagging indicator of COVID-19 because of the time it typically takes for a case to develop life-threatening symptoms. In recent months the county — like the rest of the state — has seen a spike in deaths. And as cases started to trend down in recent weeks, so did deaths. But now they’re headed back up. Dr. Ben Weston, director of medical services for the county, said “we continue to see record days both locally and in the state with COVID related deaths.”

Each week, the team tracking COVID-19 in the county has also produced a report on COVID-19 among children aged 0 to 18. Rausch said the team was able to get “sufficient data to add hospitalization related analysis,” to their children’s report.

There have been 122 children in Milwaukee County hospitalized due to COVID-19. The average age of hospitalized children was between 9 and 10 years old. Children aged 0 to 4 had the most hospitalizations of the six age groups in the data.

Black children made up a disproportionate number of COVID-19 hospitalizations — nearly half. Hispanic children were approximately one-third of all hospitalizations and white children were only 13% of hospitalizations.

Looking at the wider county, much of the demographic patterns of COVID-19 have held. The Hispanic population has the highest rate of COVID-19. White people have the most cases. Black people have experienced the highest rate of death. People aged 25 to 39 have the highest rate of disease. And the oldest populations in the county have the highest rate of hospitalizations and deaths.

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

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Categories: Health

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