Doctor says Milwaukee County COVID-19 caseload is 'staggering'
Dr. Ben Weston with the Medical College of Wisconsin and Milwaukee County's Chief Health Policy Advisor gave reporters the latest COVID-19 numbers as of Tuesday afternoon.
"We're currently seeing in Milwaukee County an average of 1,168 new cases per day and about three deaths per day. Our overall trends, particularly the number of cases and hospitalizations, have been staggering. Our case numbers are at an all-time record. Our positivity is at a record high of 34%, and our hospitalizations are also at a record high at 635 people hospitalized for COVID," Weston said.
Weston said he worked quite a bit in a hospital emergency department during the holidays. There Weston saw some cases of people who have received the COVID-19 vaccination series, including the booster dose, still getting what's called a breakthrough infection of COVID-19. But he said those cases tend to be much milder than COVID-19 infections involving people who have not been vaccinated.
"The vaccine is often the difference between whether you go home to lay on your couch and watch movies, or you're admitted to the hospital, given steroids to decrease the inflammation in your body, laid face down to try to redistribute the fluid that builds up in your lungs, and put on oxygen to keep your organs functioning," Weston said.
Numbers from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services show about 62% of Milwaukee County residents have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. Roughly 57% have completed the vaccine series. Those percentages are higher than in Washington, Racine, Walworth and Kenosha counties, but trail Waukesha and Ozaukee counties.
Milwaukee Acting Mayor Cavalier Johnson urged more people to get vaccinated. He reported that nearly 35% of eligible city residents have gotten the vaccine booster in addition to the initial vaccine series.
Johnson also urged people to wear a mask in public, "and consider upgrading your cloth mask to a surgical mask or a KN-95 option. They're more effective against COVID-19."
Although he reported testing positive for COVID-19 earlier this week, Johnson said he has mild symptoms and always wears a mask in public. Johnson said the city is holding off on a mask requirement.
"This is not merely a political decision. It's one based on consultation with folks who are experts on COVID-19, who are experts on health as well," Johnson said.
One of those experts is Milwaukee Health Commissioner Kirsten Johnson, who said she believes the suburbs won't go for a mask requirement. With people crossing the Milwaukee border all the time, she said it doesn't make sense for the city to have a mask mandate.
Plus, Johnson said the Wisconsin Supreme Court may rule soon on the power of health departments to order such a requirement.
Milwaukee is opening a couple more mobile vaccination sites this week and increasing staff at three city clinics that offer COVID-19 testing. Commissioner Johnson said more Milwaukee police are being stationed at those clinics because of altercations or threats of violence involving drivers facing long lines.
"The issue has been people getting out of their cars, and so, if you are at one of our testing sites, please stay in your car. It's the safest place to be, both from the perspective of spreading the virus, but also, just in terms of individual safety," Commissioner Johnson said.
Johnson noted there are privately-run COVID-19 testing sites that can be found on the healthymke.com website. She said she's also working with a private lab that may open more testing sites soon.
Dr. Weston said based on his recent hospital emergency department work, don't try there.
"We want to have to room to care for the people who are sick, whether it's from COVID or heart issues, or strokes, or everything else people have. And therefore, we want the folks who just need testing to frankly go somewhere else," Weston said.
Weston also recommended visiting the healthymke.com website for more information about vaccines and COVID-19 test sites. The City of Milwaukee also has available information at city.milwaukee.gov/CovidVax.