Omicron Drives County’s Worst Pandemic Surge
'Staggering' surge in cases, hospitalizations 'unprecedented' for Milwaukee, official says.
Milwaukee County faces the greatest surge in COVID-19 of the entire pandemic.
During a countywide media briefing, Dr. Ben Weston, chief health policy advisor for Milwaukee County, said “overall trends, particularly the number of cases and hospitalizations, have been staggering.”
“This created a perfect storm with a more highly transmissible variant emerging while people are traveling and gathering in their homes with their family,” Commissioner Johnson said.
There are 635 people now hospitalized in Milwaukee County with COVID-19. The county is experiencing an average of 1,168 new cases a day. The last time cases were close to surging this high was last winter when the county saw its seven-day case average peak at just over 1,000 cases a day. The spike in cases is such that “the trends are near vertical,” Weston said.
Data from the county’s Office of Emergency Management shows a massive surge in identified cases the day after Christmas when the county recorded more than 3,000 new cases of COVID-19 in a single day.
The City of Milwaukee is once again reporting “Extreme Transmission” of COVID-19. The seven-day disease burden rate is approximately 925 cases per 100,000 people. The positivity rate, which measures what percentage of tests come back positive for COVID-19 is currently at about 37%.
“The newest gating metrics, while not surprising, are alarming,” Commissioner Johnson said.
The number of new cases identified daily by public health officials is certainly below the real number in the community, as has been the case throughout the entire pandemic. But the rise of at-home rapid antigen tests means there are likely far more cases being identified but not recorded.
But even without being able to include those cases, Weston said, “there’s a clear uptick in the cases, there’s a clear uptick in positivity and there’s a clear uptick in hospitalizations.”
The city is working with a private lab to open new testing sites in the coming week, the commissioner said.
Johnson said that anyone who tests positive with a rapid test should isolate for at least five days, per the guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and that anyone that tests negative with a rapid antigen test but has symptoms of COVID-19 should confirm the negative with a PCR test.
Johnson, Weston and Acting Mayor Cavalier Johnson all urged residents to get vaccinated and wear a mask when in public; and if you’re already vaccinated, get a booster. Said Weston: “Vaccination and booster are critical to protecting you in the weeks and months to come.”
Vaccination has very often proven to be the difference between experiencing severe illness from COVID-19 and having mild symptoms, Weston said. Unvaccinated patients tend to “do so much worse,” he said.
Citywide Mask Mandate?
Mayor Johnson and Commissioner Johnson both said they do not expect to re-implement a city-wide mask mandate. The commissioner said the impact of a mask mandate could be limited, given that it would only apply to the City of Milwaukee, and she noted that public health powers have been under attack during the pandemic. At this time, a public health order should be enacted through the legislative process and a city ordinance, the commissioner said.
Alderwoman Marina Dimitrijevic has repeatedly urged the commissioner and the mayor to reinstate a citywide mask mandate. The commissioner said she encourages Dimitrijevic to pursue a mask mandate ordinance.
But “our way out of this is through vaccination,” the commissioner stressed.
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