As Wisconsin Approaches 4,000 Coronavirus Deaths, Vaccine For Health Workers Nears

Dec 11, 2020

Nearly 4,000 people in Wisconsin have died of COVID-19, after 57 deaths were announced Thursday.  The number of confirmed cases in the state since the pandemic began now tops 426,000. State officials and medical experts say the case total could be higher if more people would be tested for the coronavirus.

Also, late Thursday, an FDA advisory panel recommended emergency authorization of a vaccine for COVID-19. Some health care providers in Wisconsin could be given the vaccine next week.

On the testing front, the state's acting director of the Bureau of Communicable Diseases, Traci DeSalvo, said Wisconsin has not seen the predicted post-Thanksgiving spike in cases. But she said that may be because testing has fallen off.

"So we really do want to encourage people, if you have symptoms of COVID-19, if you have a known exposure to someone who is a confirmed case of COVID-19, we want to encourage you to talk to your provider, go to the community testing site, and get tested, " DeSalvo said.

State Department of Health Services Secretary-designee Andrea Palm said she remains concerned about another uptick in cases because data show as much of half the spread of COVID-19 is from people without symptoms.

"So, people who have COVID and can transmit it without knowing they have the virus,” Palm warned.

Palm said on Thursday, the state's disaster medical advisory committee met to discuss how to distribute Wisconsin's initial share of the vaccine now apparently headed for final FDA approval. Health care workers here and nationally will be first in line, but Palm said further priorities may be set.

"You know, somebody in an ICU, somebody who's working on a COVID unit, etc., those kinds of considerations, so that folks who are going to be vaccinating health care workers can prioritize further,” Palm said.

A sign outside a Milwaukee restaurant in July.
Credit Chuck Quirmbach

One health care provider in Wisconsin and Illinois, Advocate Aurora, says some of its workers may be vaccinated next week. But Dr. Robert Citronberg said the message for those employees, and others who are immunized, will be keep wearing masks or risk spreading COVID-19.

He gave this example: "The virus is floating around, you're exposed to it, you could easily become colonized with the virus in your nose. If you've got the vaccine, you may not get sick from the virus, but you can still pass it to other people.” Citronberg added that he expects masking and social distancing measures to be in place for several more months.