Graham Kilmer
MKE County

COVID-19 Trending Down, Deaths Still High

Data shows new cases going down, but deaths remain high.

By - Dec 17th, 2020 07:52 pm

Milwaukee County daily number of COVID-19 cases.

The latest data on COVID-19 in Milwaukee County shows that the disease’s spread is stabilizing, and possibly slowing.

After the worst surge in disease thus far, public health officials were cautious in recent weeks as data started to point to a slight downward trend in the burden of disease. But now, the data appears to show a “general downward trend,” according to Darren Rausch, director of the Greenfield Health Department, though more recently that trend appears to have flattened.

Rausch works with the county’s Epidemiology Intelligence Team, composed of epidemiologists and faculty from the Medical College of Wisconsin and the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee

Their latest weekly report shows that the number of daily new cases of COVID-19 has been going down since just before Thanksgiving, though it has leveled off during the past week and appears to be holding steady.

Despite this stabilization, case numbers remain very high. Daily new cases are still approximately in line with the case numbers the county was experiencing during the last surge in late June and early July.

Milwaukee County COVID-19 daily deaths.

The latest data on the transmission rate in the county shows that it spiked following Thanksgiving, above 1.0, which means that each new case of COVID-19 was, on average, infecting at least one other person. By December 1st, the transmission rate was down below 1.0.

COVID-19 deaths, however, are still “alarming,” Rausch said. The current trend in deaths began in October and continues today.

Deaths are a lagging indicator because of the time it takes for a case of COVID-19 to develop life-threatening symptoms. As has happened again and again, a surge in cases is followed by a surge in deaths.

The county is seeing daily death totals as high as 10 fatalities a day, Rausch said. In April, the highest the county experienced was 12 in one day. Health care workers also understand the virus and COVID-19 treatments much better now than in April.

The death rates in the suburbs have been higher during this surge that at any other point in the pandemic.

After Thanksgiving, public health officials were concerned when testing started going down but the positivity rate, which measures what percentage of tests come back positive, was not going down.

Now, testing is starting to inch back up and the positivity rate is dropping. Two weeks ago it was 11.8%. This past week it was 11.1%. There is a lag in data because of how long it takes to get a completed lab result, Rausch said. But, for now, “It looks to be trending down.”

Given the positive new trends in the burden of disease in Milwaukee County, Rausch and other public health officials are now having to warn the public, once again, that this doesn’t mean they should ease up on COVID-19 mitigation efforts, because those are precisely what is producing the downtrend in disease.

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

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Categories: Health, MKE County

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