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Wisconsin COVID Surge Mainly Affects Unvaccinated, But Not Exclusively

Vaccination table
Chuck Quirmbach
A COVID-19 vaccination table at an outdoor concert in downtown Kenosha Thursday evening.

Wisconsin health officials continue to urge more people to get vaccinated against COVID-19, saying most of the current surge in the illness is among unvaccinated individuals.

But medical leaders also acknowledge that a smaller number of vaccinated people are also testing positive — what's known as breakthrough COVID.

Traci DeSalvo directs the state's Bureau of Communicable Diseases within the Department of Health Services. She said COVID-19 is going up among those who have gotten a shot because of the growing presence of the delta variant.

"And we know that delta is more easily transmissible, and we are seeing more cases among people who are fully vaccinated with delta as compared to previously circulating strains of COVID-19. With that being said, I think what's also important to look at here is we are still seeing much lower rates of cases, much lower rates of hospitalizations, and much lower rates of death among those who are fully vaccinated here," DiSalvo told news reporters Thursday.

The state's chief medical officer, Dr. Ryan Westergaard, said the delta variant is not the only factor driving the surge in cases.

"The second thing is at least when it comes to physical distancing and mask wearing, by and large across the country, we are doing less well than during the first half of this year. So, I think those are almost a perfect storm as to why certain areas of this country, and increasingly in Wisconsin, are seeing a large wave," he said.

With some schools underway and more about to reopen, Westergaard is also issuing a strong recommendation to school districts and school boards to make everyone in the school wear a mask.

"Staff, students and visitors — with this virus, which is highly transmissible, we need to have 100% mask wearing in school environments, if we want to do the best we can to prevent disease spread. With people dying from this pandemic, it should be in all of our interests to do all the things we can do to minimize disease spread," he emphasized.

While the Milwaukee School District is requiring masks this school year, the Oak Creek-Franklin District is one of several going the optional route. More districts are expected to decide soon.

Chuck Quirmbach joined WUWM in August 2018. He focuses his longform stories on health, innovation, science, technology, transportation, utilities and business.
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