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Prominent Wisconsin Doctor Says Enjoy Labor Day, But Use Caution Due To COVID-19

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Chuck Quirmbach
A sign thanks people who got vaccinated at the Wisconsin Center in April.

More people are expected to gather for picnics, Summerfest and other events during the Labor Day weekend.

The state of Wisconsin's Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Ryan Westergaard, urges doing so cautiously, due to the recent surge in COVID-19 cases. On Wednesday, Westergaard told the news media that there's some evidence that when people get together for holidays, the COVID-19 caseload goes up a bit.

"If you look at data specifically on our web page, you'll see one big curve, a wave of infections, starting in November-December and going through early winter. Embedded in there, you can actually see — and you can see this on the national data as well — little upticks. There's one for Thanksgiving. There's one for Christmas/New Year's," Westergaard said.

Westergaard recommended to re-think gatherings. If indoors, wear masks, or consider canceling if anyone in your family or group has shown COVID-19 symptoms. Encourage vaccinations.

He said over the most recent seven-day period, the state is averaging about 1,700 new COVID-19 cases a day, and eight deaths per day.

That's still well below last winter's peak numbers. But Westergaard said the pandemic not only takes a poll on people with the coronavirus but also on those who try to care for them.

"We have a very worn-out hospital staffing system in Wisconsin and the United States. I was in the hospital this morning talking to nurses, and they are tired and burned out," Westergaard said.

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Dr. Ryan Westergaard speaks to the news media Wednesday. He is Chief Medical Officer and State Epidemiologist for Communicable Diseases, within the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.

The Wisconsin Hospital Association reports more than 900 COVID patients in hospitals, about one-third higher from a month ago. About 30% of those hospitalized are in intensive care.

Westergaard's advice comes as Summerfest formally begins Thursday and continues through Saturday. Then, it runs for the following two weekends, September 9-11 and 16-18, 2021. The festival is requiring people to show proof of vaccination or a new negative COVID test. Masks are recommended for adults in indoor spaces, and kids under 12 everywhere.

Westergaard generally praised the precautions. "And when we layer these preventions, we can make these activities as safe as possible, but the risk won't be zero," he said.

With more schools getting underway, he urged masks to be worn in school buildings.

This week, Racine passed a law requiring masks in indoor public spaces.

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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