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Nearly All Wisconsin Counties Have 'Very High' Level Of COVID-19 Spread

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A sign hangs on a fence surrounding a temporary test site set up to test for the coronavirus COVID-19 at Barack Obama School on October 09, 2020 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

In Wisconsin, as coronavirus cases are surging and hospitalizations are increasing, more people are dying of COVID-19.

State officials say it’s a crisis, and emphasize that their message, though repetitive, is based on science. According to state data, 68 of Wisconsin's 72 counties have a “very high” level of COVID-19 activity. That means that at least 350 people out of every 100,000 are infected with the coronavirus. That’s more than four times the number of counties that fit that category mid-September.

Some counties have five, six or even eight times higher that per capita rate, Health Secretary-designee Andrea Palm said Thursday.

“COVID-19 is everywhere in our state, and it's still spreading. When activity level is this high, and the trajectory of our cases is growing, gatherings of any size are not safe. Interacting with people outside of your household can easily spread the virus," she said.

In Milwaukee County, Greenfield Health Director Darren Rausch said the pandemic is coming in waves. "To date, this current third-wave has given us the highest 7-day-average numbers for both the city of Milwaukee and the suburban communities. Secondly, we know that data for the most recent week demonstrates not only increasing cases in the adult population, but also increasing cases among children 18 years of age and younger," he said.

State and local officials say people should wear masks, practice social distancing, and get tested if they think they’ve been exposed to the coronavirus.

People with COVID-19 symptoms should be prioritized for testing because they’re more infectious, Dr. Ryan Westergaard said. He's chief medical officer for the state department of communicable diseases.

But he also emphasizes it’s very likely the majority of new cases in the state are being transmitted by people who don’t have symptoms. So, he recommends to also test those who think they have been exposed even if they don’t symptoms — like those who live with someone who has tested positive.

“In this environment where this virus is spreading silently throughout the whole state, we're not going to make a dent unless we test people without symptoms,” he said. “We need to develop strategies to do that in a coordinated way. But right now, it's inappropriate, in my view for anyone to get turned away from the test because they're concerned that they've been exposed.”

The state has added70 new testing sites. With more cases, comes increased hospitalizations and deaths. Some regions are reporting more than 90% of their ICU beds in use.

As numbers worsen, Gov. Tony Evers was asked Thursday whether his administration’s tactics and messaging are workin, or if he should change them up. He’s been pushing social distancing and mask wearing for many months.

“We believe that orders have made a difference, it would be worse without them. And, frankly, the science is all about the things we're talking about. I just can't make up crap out of thin air here. So, we will continue to have that conversation around the things that we know work," he said.

Evers said inconsistent messages from other local, state or national leaders don’t help. And, he said neither do GOP state lawmakers and their allies who’ve taken his administration to court over measures to stem the spread of the virus.

But Evers said he does believe Republicans are interested in flattening the curve and that the effort to save lives should be collective. To emphasize the severity of the crisis, he pointed to the 7-day average of daily cases, which currently hovers around 3,400, up from about 700 two months ago.

He said, on average, 1% of people who get infected with the coronavirus die of the disease. He said currently, that would mean about 35 people out of that group, on average, that would not be here.

As of Thursday, state health officials say 1,703 Wisconsinites have died from COVID-19. “Come on, folks! Let's all get together. Individual responsibility. This is not a political statement,” Evers said.

He said he can’t be a one-man-band in the effort to stop the virus.

Maayan is a WUWM news reporter.
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