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As COVID-19 Cases Plateau, Milwaukee-Area Officials Worry About Hospitals And Schools

Emily Files
A kindergarten class at MacDowell Montessori in Milwaukee.

Local officials say new cases of COVID-19 in the region have plateaued in recent weeks. But they say that's still a cause for concern, with more worry ahead, because more Milwaukee-area kids are going back to school this week.

The city of Milwaukee remains in what's called the "extreme" transmission category for COVID-19 cases, per 100,000 of population. The percentage of positive results for people who get tested for the coronavirus remains in the "substantial" category, leading Mayor Tom Barrett to say he's not happy with the numbers.

"These slight increases bring us to the highest value for our case burden since January of this year," Barrett told the news media Tuesday.

Also on Tuesday, Dr. Ben Weston of the Medical College of Wisconsin and Milwaukee County said the county is seeing about 270 new cases per day and three new deaths per day. Weston said more people are winding up in the hospital.

"We're now up to 243 individuals with COVID hospitalized in the county. That's the highest number we've seen since early in January. Increasing hospitalizations, coupled with staffing shortages, is not a good combination."

Weston said Milwaukee-area hospitals are not at peak patient capacity, though some hospitals elsewhere in the state are.

Some Wisconsin hospitals report nurse shortages have recently worsened, in part due to heavy COVID-related workloads. Froedtert Hospital in Wauwatosa is offering hiring bonuses of up to $6,000 to experienced nurses, though a spokesperson said Froedtert and the Medical College of Wisconsin network "does not have current plans to delay or reduce non-urgent surgical procedures that require an in-patient bed."

City of Greenfield Health Director Darren Rausch said the percentage of new cases in the county that involve juveniles continues to grow, to now, about 25%. He said with more schools opening, the disease forecast is not good.

"We will start to expect additional cases of COVID-19 in kids, with more mixing and mingling of kids in school settings," Rausch said.

image - 2021-09-01T091757.337.png
Greenfield Health Dept. Director Darren Rausch shared this document during Tuesday's briefing.

Rausch said one problem is that countywide, only about one-third of 12-15 year-olds are vaccinated. About 40% of 16 and 17 year-olds are immunized. He said vaccination rates still aren't where the county needs to be.

Many adults remain unvaccinated, too. Just under 60% of Milwaukeeans age 16 and over have gotten at least one dose, and only 53% are fully vaccinated.

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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