Graham Kilmer
MKE County

COVID-19 Continues to Decline

But the rise of new variant raises worries that this won't last.

By - Feb 19th, 2021 02:28 pm
Milwaukee County daily number of COVID-19 cases

Milwaukee County daily number of COVID-19 cases

The number of tests coming back positive for COVID-19 in Milwaukee County is trending toward the lowest levels of the entire pandemic.

The current positivity rate is 3.5% and it’s been steadily dropping for more than a month. Last week the positivity rate was 4.3%.

This is one indicator of a generally decreasing burden of disease in the county, but it’s in line with much of the other local data on COVID-19.

A weekly report produced by a team of epidemiologists and faculty from the Medical College of Wisconsin and UW-Milwaukee shows evidence of a continuing “slow and steady decrease” in COVID-19 cases, said Darren Rausch, director of the Greenfield Health Department, who has been working with the team to track the disease.

The number of daily new cases in the city and suburbs continues to go down. Data is still pending, but in the last week there were less than 800 cases identified in the county. The highest single day for cases was in November when the county identified more than 1,600 in 24 hours.

The transmission rate, which is a measure of how many people are likely to be infected by a single case of COVID-19, remains below 1.0. This means each new case is infecting, on average less than one other person. It indicates the community is suppressing the disease.

The oldest patients in Milwaukee County continue to experience the most severe outcomes from COVID-19, with the highest rates of hospitalization and death. Meanwhile, it is young people, specifically young people 25-39, who have the highest number of cases and the highest rate of COVID-19.

Black county residents continue to make up a disproportionate amount of the hospitalizations, and have one of the highest rates of hospitalization. For most of the pandemic, Black residents were also suffering from the highest rate of death in the county.

Recently, American Indian and Alaskan Native residents saw their hospitalizations and deaths shoot up. They currently have the highest rate in the county for both.

These trends generally show that COVID-19 is decreasing. But given the history of the pandemic thus far, said Dr. Ben Weston, medical director for Milwaukee County, this could mean a spike in rates is coming, however counterintuitive that may sound. “We’ve seen throughout the pandemic that when things go well, institutionally and individually, we kind of pull back on restrictions,” he said. “And when that happens we go through the cycle and we ramp up with cases and ultimately hospitalizations and deaths.”

Then there is the new variant. Recently, Weston has been sounding the alarm that despite the downward trend in cases and deaths, all is not well. The mere presence of the new variant called B.1.1.7 is a “clear warning sign” that the disease could spike again.

If the new variant could be isolated within the data, Weston said, “I think our trends unfortunately would be in the opposite direction. I think we’d be going up in every case with this new variant.”

The variant is estimated to spread at least 50% faster and easier than previous strains of the virus. New research also indicates that it is something like 30% more severe, leading to higher levels of hospitalization and death.

In every country where the variant has been identified, it took one to two months for it to become the dominant strain, with a spike in disease that followed.

We can fight the new variant using the same things “that we’re all getting tired of hearing,” Weston stressed: wear a mask, social distance, avoid group settings and get vaccinated as soon as you can.

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

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Categories: Health

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