Graham Kilmer
MKE County

Officials “Cautiously Optimistic” About Stabilizing Case Numbers

Public health officials are worried that dropping case numbers are a data problem, and not actually a lessening burden of disease.

By - Dec 11th, 2020 03:52 pm
Milwaukee County daily number of COVID-19 cases

Milwaukee County daily number of COVID-19 cases

Darren Rausch, director of the Greenfield Health Department, said he has “cautious optimism” that the recent plateau in cases of COVID-19 is here to stay, or even go down.

However, he said, early indicators of rising disease point to the possibility that cases could go in a different direction.

A team of epidemiologists and faculty from the Medical College of Wisconsin and the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee produce a report each week tracking COVID-19 locally. Their latest report shows a leveling off in cases and disease.

“We know that a lot of data is still preliminary and still coming in,” Rausch said. “So it’s uncertain if we’re still going to be experiencing a downturn in the coming weeks and days or if we will start to see an increase.”

Even with the data showing a plateau in new daily new cases, Rausch said: “Cases overall still remain very high in Milwaukee County.”

The report shows the county saw a peak in cases sometime during the second week of November. The number of people getting tested has also declined since the second week of November, and that’s what has Rausch and others concerned. Especially because the positivity rate, which measures the percentage of tests that come back positive, declined then went back up and has since held steady.

The positivity rate has consistently been held up as an important metric for determining the burden of disease in the community. The positivity rate for December 2nd through the 8th, according to the report was 12.3% in Milwaukee County. This is lower than it was a month ago, but it is still considered a high positivity rate.

The latest data in the report for the transmission rate in the county shows that it has been going up recently, and is approaching 1.0. When the transmission rate is at 1.0 or above, it means that each new case of COVID-19 will, on average, infect at least one other person.

Deaths are a lagging indicator of disease in the community because of the time it typically takes for someone with COVID-19 to develop life-threatening symptoms. Over the past month deaths have been spiking, “and we continue to see that this spike gets higher as the weeks go on,” Rausch said.

The Milwaukee County’s Office of Emergency Management COVID-19 dashboard indicates that the seven-day average of deaths is currently 6.6 per day.

The demographic component of COVID-19 in the county has not changed much. Young people between 25 and 39 years old continue to have the most cases and the highest rate of disease. The oldest among us continue to have the highest rate of hospitalization and death.

The Hispanic community still has the highest rate of COVID-19. Recently, Asian residents have seen their case rate climb and they now have the second-highest case rate in the county, and they have the highest rate of hospitalizations in the county. White people still have the most cumulative cases. And Black people still suffer from the highest rate of death in the county.

Supposing the county is in fact headed into a downturn in cases and disease, officials said that’s no reason to pull back or relax on COVID-19 mitigation efforts and attributed those efforts to a key part of putting the figures on a downward trajectory.

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

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Categories: Health

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