Graham Kilmer
MKE County

COVID-19 Hospitalizations Rising

Hospitalizations could be an indication of rising transmission.

By - Jan 16th, 2023 05:09 pm
2019 Novel Coronavirus. Image by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

2019 Novel Coronavirus. Image by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The latest data on COVID-19 for Milwaukee County shows that cases overall are decreasing, but hospitalizations have been steadily increasing since November and are at their highest point in nearly a year.

This past week, there were 161 people hospitalized with COVID-19, up from 153 the week prior. In the final week of November, there were 130 people hospitalized with the disease. During this period, the number of new cases has fluctuated from week to week, going up and down, according to a weekly report compiled by epidemiologists, public health officials and faculty from the Medical College of Wisconsin and UW-Milwaukee.

This incongruent data may be due to the increasing prevalence of the newest COVID-19 variant known as XBB.1.5. Public health officials are saying that it is the most transmissible variant to date — it’s quickly become the dominant variant in the northeast part of the country — but does not appear to be causing more severe disease than previous variants.

Ben Weston, chief health policy advisor for Milwaukee County, recently explained that even if XBB does not produce more severe disease, an increase in disease transmission will tend to increase hospitalization numbers.

Let’s say 3% of people who get [COVID-19] get hospitalized. If a community has 1000 people get infected, that means 30 hospitalizations,” Weston said. “If the virus is more transmissible and now 3,000 people get infected, then even with same severity 90 people get hospitalized.”

In Milwaukee County, true case numbers have become difficult to come by with the widespread use of at-home tests, the results of which are not easily captured by public health institutions. The weekly report tracking COVID-19 in Milwaukee County also doesn’t include data from rapid antigen tests, which have become notorious for false-negatives.

Weston said XBB is “spreading like wildfire.” It’s the dominant variant in the U.S. accounting for approximately 43% of cases. In the Midwest, it’s still the third most common variant, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but it is rapidly increasing as the two dominant variants have begun to wane.

Even with variants that do not cause more severe disease, increasing transmission is a particular threat to those 65 years and older who have continued to see high rates of hospitalization with the disease. Weston said he believes the most important way to mitigate severe COVID-19 disease outcomes continues to be vaccination and, specifically, booster doses with the new bivalent booster that produces immunity for two unique COVID-19 variants.

In Milwaukee County, the latest data from a countywide vaccine report shows that 61.8% of residents are completely vaccinated as of one week ago; and only 59.8% of booster-eligible residents have received one. Anyone five years or older who completed primary vaccination prior to August 12, 2022 with a Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, or prior to November 10, 2022 with a Johnson & Johnson vaccine, are eligible for a booster.

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More about the Coronavirus Pandemic

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Categories: Health, MKE County

One thought on “MKE County: COVID-19 Hospitalizations Rising”

  1. Thomas Sepllman says:

    OK Any reason to not be notifying us about the vaccine rate of those in the Hospital??? It would make a big difference to some folks who are assuming that they are all unvaccinated when in fact it makes no difference. I assume it does but not publishing the data does not help those who are still on the fence to say OH those in the Hospital are not vaccinated so it is time or some such. Hopefully we will see this information in the next story about COVID Hospitalization. ie if the vaccines do not make a difference more people will wear mask

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