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Milwaukee County Is Not Clear Of The Coronavirus, Officials Say Fewer People Getting Tested

Courtesy of Samer Ghani
With businesses reopening and protests across the nation, some people may think the coronavirus is no longer a large threat. But Milwaukee County officials say the region is not in the clear – and things could get worse.";

Businesses have been reopening over the last few weeks, as local governments have relaxed measures put into place to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. And in demonstrations for racial equality across the nation, huge groups of people have been assembling after months of social distancing and staying at home.

It might appear, to some, as if the coronavirus is out of the way. But Milwaukee County officials say the region is not in the clear – and things could get worse.

>>Latest WUWM & NPR Coronavirus Coverage

In a news conference Tuesday, they said people should continue their diligence in wearing masks and practicing social distancing.

The number of people getting tested for the coronavirus in Milwaukee County has dropped in the past two weeks, according to Dr. Ben Weston, director of medical services for the county’s Office of Emergency Management.

Yet Weston says the decrease in testing doesn’t mean coronavirus cases are dropping. Rather, he suspects people are steering clear of test sites because they’re becoming less aware of the COVID-19 threat.

Weston says for some, it might seem like life is getting back to normal. For others, they may be more focused on the massive protests that followed the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police.

“This question of two factors suggests that we're under testing in Milwaukee County, and missing a substantial number of cases of COVID-19 in our community,” Weston explains.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett agrees with Weston’s assessment that some people are paying less attention to the coronavirus.

“I think part of the theme we have here today is because of the nice weather, because people are tired of this, because of the protests and marches. We want to make believe that we are through this and the numbers have been better. The numbers clearly have been better,” says Barrett.

Barrett said late last week that the city is making enough progress in fighting the spread of the coronavirus that bars and restaurants could reopen – with restrictions.

Local officials closely watch five key indicators of how the coronavirus is spreading and how well the county is prepared for COVID-19. The indicators are: trends in coronavirus cases, the number of tests performed, hospital readiness, PPE availability and tracing.

A green icon next to a key indicator means the county is in “excellent” shape in that area. A yellow icon means “proceed with caution.” A red icon indicates there’s cause for concern.

As of Tuesday evening, there was one red icon, one green icon, and three yellow “proceed with caution” icons.

Milwaukee Health Commissioner Jeanette Kowalik says the next time the city will review progress and decide whether to further relax the rules will be on Juneteenth Day – June 19.

“If we fall back to red in any category by the time we get to the 19th, we're going to note that and we're going to have to reassess every seven days from that point out,” Kowalik says.

In the meantime, Kowalik says there needs to be an increased awareness of continuing testing to help curb the spread of the coronavirus. That includes among the Latino population, which accounts for 38% of the county’s coronavirus cases.

As of late Tuesday, the county had surpassed 9,000 positive tests for the coronavirus and more than 300 county residents had died from COVID-19.

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Olivia Richardson
Olivia Richardson became WUWM's Eric Von Fellow in October 2019.
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