Milwaukee and Madison are no longer Wisconsin coronavirus hotspots.
Like the balloons of the state outbreak in one of the country’s worst, the influx of cases and hospitalization in Northeast Wisconsin is unlike anything the region has experienced since the pandemic began.
Hospitals in the Green Bay and Fox Valley areas are close to capacity, and local resources are being curtailed as cases rise at an almost exponential rate. As growth slowed in people in college, that gain was lost in a rapid increase in other age groups.
“We can’t blame everyone on college campuses,” said Jeff Pothof, chief quality officer at the University of Wisconsin Health.
Pothof believes the rise of early September among young people and the outbreaks on the University of Wisconsin campus could have given people in other parts of the state a false sense of security.
“People started thinking, ‘as long as I’m not in a college town and I’m not a college student, things are OK,'” he said.
Young people in college towns continue to report high case numbers, but the outbreak has spread across campus communities, according to an analysis by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Two weeks ago, people aged 10 to 29 counted nearly half of the new cases in the state. But last week, they generated a little more than a third.
And that age group actually reported fewer cases last week than last week, while the adult adult saw 45% to 55% more cases week in one week.
The state Department of Health Services on Monday reported 1,726 new cases and 6,159 negative reviews for a positive rate of 21.9%.
The average daily new case count in the last seven days is 2,155. On March 25, when Governor Tony Evers’ Safer and Home order took effect, Wisconsin reported 192 new cases.
Tests are up compared to spring – the state regularly tests more than 10,000 people a day, compared to nearly 1,500 a day in late March – but the percentage of positive tests rarely exceeded 10% then.
The positive rate has been rising since early September, and the average in the last seven days is 18.2%.
The state also reported two deaths, bringing the total to 1,283.
It all comes down to President Donald Trump’s plan to hold rallies on Saturday at airports in Green Bay and La Crosse – a place that experiences the country’s second highest rate of infection, according to a study in the New York Times. The Green Bay area has the sixth highest rate.
Trump rally rallies across the country were marked by a slight social outcry or wearing a mask.
Outbreaks in Green Bay, Appleton and Oshkosh areas have been fueled by large gatherings such as weddings and celebrations as well as various levels of mask wear, local health officials said.
Wisconsin residents may have “COVID tired,” tired of staying home, and choose to attend events and socialize as normal, health officials said.
“This is not the time to throw in the towel and say, ‘Heck, I’m just going to live my life,'” said Chris Woleske, chief executive officer of Bellin Health.
Pothof said some large gatherings could spread the virus to hundreds of people.
Even those living in small towns are not immune to the virus, he said – the provinces, northern Kewaunee and Shawano counties are reporting the highest number of cases in the state, which is several times larger than Milwaukee.
“The biggest thing that needs to be moved is our behavior,” Pothof said. “We’re really stuck with … the same tools we’ve had since March, which is masking, social distance, good hygiene.”
Most of the Midwest is seeing an influx of cases, such as Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota joining Wisconsin in outsized case growth.
In recent days, Wisconsin has reported a higher number of cases on a daily basis than the state of New York, which is three times the population and sees nearly 800 to 900 new cases a day. The positive rate is about 1%.
And Florida, in the attention of recent months for widespread outbreaks, is reporting an average positive rate of just under 5%.
College campuses are an early explanation for climbing
Cases in Wisconsin have been swollen since early September when colleges returned students to campus, which was thought to be an early explanation for the rollout.
UW-Madison stopped private classes for a week until the semester after more than 1,000 students were infected, and other schools – including UW-La Crosse, UW-Eau Claire and Marquette University – quarantined dorms in the hope of preventing the virus from spreading further
But campuses are no longer just flash points.
For weeks, Fox Valley communities and northeastern Wisconsin set records and filled hospitals – Appleton, Green Bay and the Oshkosh-Neenah area were among the top 10 areas of meters in the country where the most severe outbreaks, according to the New York Times.
Fox Valley is at the “critical burden” of infection, Winnebago County health officials said. The province reports about 574 cases per 100,000 residents. Milwaukee County, by comparison, reports a rate of 182.
And the growth is fast. In Winnebago County, 778 cases reported last week more than doubled the week before and more than five times the case three weeks ago, according to local health officials.
Winnebago County last Thursday recorded 194 new cases a day, the highest total since the pandemic began. The city of Appleton has set a new record for the weekly case count for the fifth consecutive week, reporting 340 cases from September 21 to Saturday.
And Brown County on Friday reported nearly 30% of tests returned positive.
Hospitals, overwhelmed tracer contacts
Alarm areas have begun to sound. At a news conference on Friday, Woleske said COVID patients cover three-quarters of Bellin Hospital’s ICU beds and two-thirds of medical unit beds – almost twice the number of weeks new.
Last week, Bellin’s emergency room was so overcrowded that workers had to rely on patients in the hallway gurneys.
Coronavirus hospitals in Fox Valley are more than five times higher than a month ago. ThedaCare, which throughout the pandemic has placed all coronavirus patients in its Appleton hospital, is making plans to transport patients to Neenah and critical access hospitals in Berlin, Shawano and Waupaca.
“If we don’t change something … let’s go back to the square, where we went back in February and March, and really maybe worse than that moment in time,” CEO Imran Andrabi told Appleton Post Crescent.
Spring hospitals have made plans to expand their capacity to treat coronavirus patients, but since then many have resumed non-emergency procedures, combining the space issue that some now face. hospitals, Pothof said.
If the trends continue, the state health care system will be far ahead of its capabilities, he said.
“None of those plans are eternal. At some point, they all have an end-point,” he said. “And if you get to those end-points, that’s where bad things start to happen to patients.”
And as cases accelerate, one of the key tools to stop the spread is difficult to do.
Several health departments across the state have reported that contact tracers, with a duty to reach out to infected and identify and monitor their close contacts, have been overwhelmed by the emergence of new cases to operate.
“Our goal is to reach all confirmed cases within 24 hours reported to the health department, but due to the current influx of cases we are behind this goal,” the Winnebago Department of Health wrote. County in a release Thursday.
Trackers in Portage County, Outagamie County and Marathon County also reported being unsustainable.
The key to the cycle of the current outbreak is to make the public understand the severity of the virus and its widespread impact, Pothof said.
“The longer we stay, the gravity of those numbers and the historical nature we go through are starting to fade a bit,” he said, “and people are starting to return to their normal behavior, which unfortunately will allow continued spread and proliferation (of the virus). “
Green Bay Press-Gazette’s Haley BeMiller contributed to this report.
Contact Sophie Carson at (414) 223-5512 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @SCarson_News.
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