The coronavirus is not slowing down in Milwaukee County. Health officials reported Thursday that there are more than 47,000 cases, and the county is inching up to 500 deaths.
This past Tuesday was the highest single-day increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations in the county — a record 418. For comparison, Dr. Ben Weston says the county barely crossed 200 hospitalizations at any point earlier in the pandemic.
Weston, an associate professor at the Medical College of Wisconsin, says since the spring, Milwaukee County hospitals have been as prepared as possible for a potential surge in COVID-19 cases. But he says no hospital system can keep up if the numbers continue to rise at the current rate.
"Not only do we not have a flattening of the curve, but we have quite the opposite. We're seeing a steepening of the curve as our numbers are getting worse and worse," Weston says.
During a media briefing with local leaders, he once again stressed the steps people can take to try to slow the spread of the coronavirus:
- Layering personal protections: wearing masks, social distancing, being out in open air, and shortening exposure to people outside your household.
- Limiting gatherings both small and large.
- Isolating yourself for two-weeks if you’re exposed to the coronavirus, which is important since symptoms could show up days after you’ve been exposed.
"Before we can even start thinking about flattening curve, we have to slow the steepening of the curve that we're seeing right now. That can only happen if we carefully consider safe individual decisions," Weston says. "There's certainly an end to all this, but it's not here. And honestly, it's not looking close. For now, we must all buckle down, keep our community as healthy as possible."
Darren Rausch, director of the Greenfield Health Department, echoed that hospital systems in the county are feeling the pressure of constant increases in cases.
"The increasing case numbers are severely straining local public health resources and further, these increases have caused a significant prioritization of disease investigation, severely limiting contact tracing and have the potential to add further strain on health care and health care capacity," Rausch says.
Rausch says health officials continue to see sharp increases in children 18 and under, as well as the whole population.
Twenty-five to 39-year-olds have the greatest numbers of cases. And hospitalizations are up among those 80 and older – an increasing trend since October.
Deaths are on the rise too, especially in suburban communities. Rausch says health officials are concerned the death rates will increase in the older, more vulnerable populations, which was the case in March and April.
Rausch says the transmission rate in Milwaukee County shows sustained spread of the virus.
"Very much so since the end of August, early part of September that transmission rate has been largely above 1, which means there's continued sustained transmission of COVID-19 from one positive case to others," he says. "And when we drill down a little bit further and look at this particular graphic by city and compare the city of Milwaukee to the suburban communities, we see in fact, things are looking a little bit worse for that transmission rate in the suburban communities as compared to the city of Milwaukee."
Rausch says the data continue to show that Milwaukee County is heading in the wrong direction and approaching levels that we might not be able to handle.