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Milwaukee-area health officials warn COVID-19 is not taking the holidays off

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This graph released Tuesday by Greenfield Health Director Darren Rausch shows the recent increase in vaccinations in Milwaukee County.

Local health officials say this should be a time of the year to be with family and friends. But the medical experts are warning to be very careful about holiday gatherings, due to the current surge in COVID-19 numbers.

On Tuesday, Dr. Ben Weston of the Medical College of Wisconsin and Milwaukee County said there are about 470 new COVID cases in the county per day, and the county has gone up to about six deaths per day.

"That's a number of daily COVID deaths that we have not seen since just about one year ago. And as for our trends, that's an ongoing theme, we're just about exactly where we were a year ago, with respect to cases, hospitalizations, as well as deaths," Weston told news reporters.

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Dr. Ben Weston speaks during Tuesday's briefing on COVID-19.

Greenfield Health Director Darren Rausch said if the higher caseload continues, there could be more than 3,300 new cases in the county over the next week, 1,000 more than the past seven days. Rausch said the county's COVID reproductive rate has been nearly 1.5 recently, meaning on average one person could infect 1. 5 others, "which means we're going to continue to see cases increase in the next couple weeks, at a minimum, and that doesn't include any potential holiday exposures that will come," Rausch warned.

Rausch said a bit of good news is that late last week, the reproductive (R) rate slipped slightly below one, the threshold health officials say eventually could lead to a decline in cases. But not right away.

Officials continue to promote getting the COVID vaccine or a booster for those eligible. But Rausch said he's troubled by some local disparities, including that vaccination rates in Milwaukee County suburbs are roughly ten percentage points higher than in the city of Milwaukee.

Rausch also said there are racial disparities.

"While some population groups are certainly above 50%, we're seeing vaccination rates in the African American community just under 40%. So, we know there are efforts to made in those communities. Some of the ways we can continue to do that is to be good messengers and good stewards of information. Reach out to family and friends and loved ones," Rausch said.

Local health experts say vaccinated or not, if you are gathering for upcoming holidays, get a rapid test for COVID-19 the day of your gathering, or a more comprehensive test called a PCR, a couple days before the event.

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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