Milwaukee County Moves To 'High' COVID Community Transmission, Bucks Gatherings Could Be Linked To Some Cases
The latest COVID-19 trends are distressing Milwaukee County health officials.
According to Milwaukee's Health Commissioner Kirsten Johnson, the city of Milwaukee’s disease burden was 75.7 cases per 100,000 last week. This week it’s 193.2 cases, putting the city in the “extreme transmission” category.
And as of Tuesday, the county is averaging 220 new cases a day and about one death every two days. The Center for Disease Control now classifies Milwaukee County as "high" for community transmission.
Health officials have also identified 491 coronavirus cases statewide that could be linked to the large crowds that gathered in downtown Milwaukee, in the Deer District or at Bucks games, to cheer on the Bucks' run to the NBA championship.
Johnson said contact tracing and testing for cases associated with those gatherings continues with the help of the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS). DHS could not say definitively that they caught the virus while viewing the game downtown or elsewhere.
“I think it is important to recognize that any time there is a large gathering of people, we are going to see the virus spread,” Johnson said during a Tuesday COVID-19 briefing. She said that she has talked with multiple entertainment venues about potentially requiring proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test to attend events.
During the briefing, Dr. Ben Weston pointed to another concern — increased hospitalizations. Weston is the director of medical services in Milwaukee County’s Office of Emergency Management.
Weston said one thing health officials have learned since the start of the pandemic is that COVID surges follow a timeline — first there’s a rise in cases, then a rise in hospitalizations and then deaths. "The state of Wisconsin has seen a fourfold increase in hospitalizations in the last four weeks," he said. "... We’ve had four times as many people hospitalized with COVID in Wisconsin as we did one month ago — from 74 individuals to 310 today."
In Milwaukee County, Weston said COVID hospitalizations have tripled in the last month and that the highly contagious delta variant is behind the surge.
Weston streamlined the CDC's newest description of the variant: "The delta variant is extremely contagious. In fact, it’s one of the most contagious viruses we’ve ever seen — at the same level of chicken pox. And for those of us who remember chicken pox, everyone got chicken pox at one point or another. That is until a vaccine was developed."
Another point Weston made was that vaccinated people are three times less likely to get COVID-19 than unvaccinated people, but breakthrough infections can happen among the vaccinated when there’s a lot of disease in the community.
Commissioner Johnson said the messaging has not changed: more people need to get vaccinated and wear masks indoors. She added, "Fifty-point eight percent of Milwaukee adults over the age of 16 are fully vaccinated. This is only a 0.8% increase since we hit the 50% threshold a week and a half ago. Please get vaccinated. Last week, the Milwaukee Health Department released an advisory for everyone regardless of vaccination status to wear a mask when indoors in public spaces. Face coverings keep you and those around you safe, please mask up."
Johnson said she is in constant talks with city leaders and departments about the best plan of action moving forward to prioritize the health and safety of Milwaukeeans. She said no mask mandates or capacity restrictions on businesses are planned at this time.