Milwaukee-Area COVID Vaccination Rates Cool Off, So Officials Ramp Up Plans To Take Shots To People
Milwaukee-area health officials say local vaccinations for COVID-19 continue to cool off. But more efforts are underway to bring shots to people. Also, there are two more signs of local life becoming a bit more normal.
Here's an update on the pandemic:
State figures show 41% of people in Milwaukee County have received one dose of the vaccine. Thirty-four percent have completed the vaccination series. But medical experts are still hoping to hit 70 to 80% locally and nationwide to reach herd immunity.
Dr. Ben Weston of the Medical College of Wisconsin and the Milwaukee County Office of Emergency Management said he's troubled about the county's downward trend in first doses.
"Those numbers are telling. Whereas at peak, we had nearly 6,200 people getting their first dose each day, we're now at about 1,700 people. And this highlights the need for our current shift in vaccination strategy — from mass sites to smaller local efforts and more focused messaging to those who feel they need a bit more information," he said.
The doctor has his own message for people unsure about getting vaccinated, and cites a new UW Health study in Madison that uses federal data.
"They found that an unvaccinated person is 1,000 times more likely to get COVID than someone who's fully vaccinated. So, to those who are unvaccinated and have not yet had COVID, you're lucky. But, this data shows you're also on borrowed time," Weston said.
Among the smaller, more targeted efforts to get people vaccinated is one Friday at the Wisconsin Center in downtown Milwaukee. Milwaukee Health Commissioner Kirsten Johnson says the tourism agency VISIT Milwaukee is hosting an event encouraging more people in the hospitality industry to get a shot.
"Everyone from bartenders and servers to concierge and museum docents. Walk-in vaccinations will become available, and VISIT Milwaukee will also be distributing local hotel and restaurant gift cards to those who take advantage of this event. In addition, two lucky winners will also be awarded a $500 prize when they return May 28 to receive their second dose," she said during a media briefing.
Johnson said the Milwaukee Health Department is also willing to travel to venues to do vaccinations. "If there's an event or a business that would like us to vaccinate their staff, please call our hotline at (414)-286-6800. Our team is ready to bring the vaccine to you," she said.
Despite vaccinations of adults in Milwaukee County still being 30-40% below the eventual goal, Summerfest has announced its musical line-up for three weekends in September. The festival won't take place in June and July.
Johnson said there will be safety precautions for the late summer events. "We are making sure that masks are going to be worn and enforced. We're asking for physical distancing in some settings — potentially looking at how beverages and food are served. Trying to limit interactions between groups of people who normally wouldn't be interacting with each other," she said.
Milwaukee County has also announced a step toward more socializing. All five county-owned senior centers will reopen as early as May 24th.
County Executive David Crowley said there will be rules to follow. "When you think about a code of conduct — one, we want seniors to wear masks at all times. We're also asking seniors to make appointments for programs, and they can call the senior centers to do so. We also want to ask our seniors to follow our screening questions, as well," he said.
Crowley said staff and volunteers will also have to follow COVID screening procedures.
The partial re-openings come as Greenfield Health Director Darren Rausch had some good news and bad news about local COVID-19 data trends. On the plus side, overall COVID cases are plateauing or slightly decreasing in the county.
On the negative side, Rausch said cases are up among children in parts of Milwaukee. "The growth in cases appears to be primarily in the Black or African American community. But certainly we're seeing increases across all population subgroups for youth. Also, the increase seems to be largely tied to kids 15 to 17 in our community," he said.
Next week, federal health officials are expected to decide whether use of the vaccine made by Pfizer can be expanded to children ages 12 to 15.