COVID-19 Rising, Delta Variant Blamed
A tripling in new cases per day and positivity rate in Milwaukee, reflecting national trend.
New cases of COVID-19 are rising in Milwaukee County, and public health officials suspect the rise is likely due to the highly transmissible Delta variant.
In Milwaukee County, a rising disease burden reflects the increase in COVID-19 at the state and national level.
“I think we’re seeing increases because of the Delta variant,” Weston said. “It’s a variant unlike anything we’ve seen with COVID before. It’s significantly more transmissible.”
A recent report produced by a team of epidemiologists and faculty from the Medical College of Wisconsin and UW-Milwaukee showed that in late June, the transmission rate in the county surged to the highest rate observed since Fall 2020.
The transmission rate went above 1.25, which meant that for each identified case of COVID-19, more than 1.25 other people, on average, would catch the disease. As of late June, Milwaukee County was no longer suppressing the disease.
“It certainly may be tempting to attribute these changes to natural fluctuations in disease burden,” Weston said. “However, when we look at the broader trends nationally, we see a clearer picture, one of a true and substantial increase in disease burden.”
Three weeks ago, the U.S. was averaging 11,000 new cases of COVID-19 per day. Now it’s averaging approximately 21,000 new cases per day, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The Delta variant is estimated to be 50% more transmissible than the Alpha variant of the disease, which itself was 50% more transmissible than the original COVID-19 virus. Along with increased transmissibility, there’s evidence the new strain could also be more dangerous, Weston said.
“When we look at the prevalence of the Delta variant in the U.S. we’re only a few weeks behind the UK,” Weston said. In the UK, the Delta variant accounts for more than 90% of new cases of COVID-19. In the U.S. it makes up approximately 60% of all new cases, he said.
People between the ages of 18 and 49 currently make up 43% of all COVID-19 hospitalizations, according to CDC data. This is the highest figure this age group has seen throughout the entire pandemic, Weston said.
Weston and state health officials maintain that vaccination continues to be the most effective way to prevent COVID-19 illness and serious consequences like hospitalization and death. He noted that states with the lowest rates of vaccination are experiencing some of the highest rates of new disease.
In Milwaukee County, only 47% of residents have received at least one dose of vaccine. This is slightly behind the statewide level, where only 50.8% of the total population has received at least one dose of the vaccine. Vaccinations have been steadily dropping in Milwaukee and statewide since mid April.
“When we have a fairly sizeable unvaccinated population in Wisconsin, in Milwaukee County, in the city, take your pick, it’s easy for the virus to spread and I think that’s why we’re seeing increased numbers,” Weston said.
The vaccines are still effective against the Delta variant, Weston said. “Now is the time to seek out vaccine if you’ve not already done so.” He stressed that the way to continue the “promising trends” of declining COVID-19 in the county is by “increasing our vaccination rates.
Read the Milwaukee County report here.
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