With COVID cases on the rise, Wisconsin health leaders urging more vaccinations

A dose of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine.

State and local health officials are urging unvaccinated residents to get their COVID-19 shot as cases are on the rise in all parts of the state.

In Milwaukee County, there were 378 new COVID cases overall for the most recent 7-day period, compared to 209 the previous week and 89 the week prior.

In Wisconsin, the 7-day average of confirmed COVID cases was 242 new cases per day as of Thursday, which is nearly three times higher than two weeks ago, when it was averaging 85 cases.

In that time, statewide COVID hospitalizations have also nearly doubled, from 74 patients to 143.

“Nearly all of these patients could have avoided this fate if they had been vaccinated,” said Julie Willems Van Dijk, deputy secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, adding that the spread of misinformation related to COVID-19 vaccines on social media continues to contribute to vaccine hesitancy.

Vaccination rates are increasing slowly for nearly all demographic groups in Milwaukee County, where 46% of eligible people have completed their vaccine series. For those 16 and older, the completion rate is nearly 57%.

The city’s COVID-19 community mobilization vaccine program, which has volunteers going door-to-door to talk with residents about the vaccine, has seen some success, with 320 people being vaccinated to date, including 100 in the past week, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said.

Statewide, just over 51% of residents have received at least one dose, with 49% having completed their series. Among adults, 62% have received one dose, and 60% have received both.

“We continue to make progress and we need to double down on our effort and make even more,” Willems Van Dijk said.

The majority of new cases are the Delta variant, which is “extremely infectious” and spreads more quickly than any other COVID strain to date, said Willems Van Dijk. All parts of the state are seeing increases in cases, but southeastern Wisconsin and Fox Valley are seeing higher rates of cases requiring hospitalizations.

Vaccines are the best way to curb the spread, health leaders stressed during a call with reporters Thursday.

“When we’re talking about a virus that, left unchecked, will essentially infect every human on the planet, having a tool that can reduce the risk of hospitalization and death by 90% will save millions of lives,” said Dr. Ryan Westergaard, DHS chief medical officer and state epidemiologist for communicable diseases. “This is one of the most powerful public health infections that we have at our disposable right now. It’s foolish of us to not use it to the greatest extent possible.”

Willems Van Dijk said state health officials are concerned about the spread of COVID as a result of Thursday’s downtown Milwaukee parade in celebration of the Milwaukee Bucks’ NBA Championship win.

“We are concerned,” she said. “We know people wanted to be jubilant and celebrate. But we know half the state is fully vaccinated and half the state is not and I assume the same applies to the people in the Deer District or in the arena. And I didn’t see half the crowd wearing a mask.”

“I anticipate we’ll see additional cases as a result of those gatherings,” she added.

Willems Van Dijk said now is the time for eligible children to get vaccinated in time for school to start, given the gap in the two doses and two-week lag to reach full immunity.

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