How Does Milwaukee Compare to Wisconsin’s Spiking COVID-19 Numbers?

Milwaukee may not be home of the latest spikes, but local health officials still find the city and county numbers concerning.

Wisconsin’s prospects in the battle to control the coronavirus pandemic continued to deteriorate over the weekend before showing signs of leveling off on Monday. 

The number of new positive COVID-19 cases stood at 1,726 on Monday, according to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. 

State health officials on Sunday reported 2,217 new cases of the COVID-19 coronavirus, the fourth consecutive day of more than 2,000 confirmed positive COVID-19 tests. A single-day record of 2,817 positive tests was reported on Saturday during a two-week stretch of record-high levels of positive tests for the coronavirus. 

This left Wisconsin among the top three states, along with North Dakota and South Dakota, for new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people, according to the New York Times’ COVID-19 tracking tool

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“Whenever the case burden is high, the virus spreads very fast,” said Laura Cassidy, professor and Director of Epidemiology at the Medical College of Wisconsin.  

Cassidy said “pandemic fatigue” is contributing to the problem.

“If people are gathering in groups and they are not wearing masks and not social distancing, there is more opportunity for the virus to spread,” she warned.

Although the city of Milwaukee had seen the preponderance of cases since the pandemic took hold in March, cities such as Green Bay and La Crosse, along with a few rural areas, are fueling the latest spike in cases in the state. 

The city of Milwaukee and Milwaukee County got hit hardest early on due in large part because it is the state’s main population center. 

“We had to put the brakes on and really take note. It was a wakeup call,” Cassidy said. “In the beginning, some of the more rural or less populated communities thought it wouldn’t get to them. So, there’s probably a difference in behavior in some of these areas. Just interacting more means there is more opportunity to move the virus and if people aren’t as diligent about wearing a mask or social distancing because they don’t feel they are at risk, then the disease can spread faster.” 

As cases climb dramatically in some other areas of the state, Milwaukee County continues to see a troubling trend as well and has been experiencing a trend in COVID-19 cases that is “beginning to reflect the increasing burden of disease of the state more generally,” Dr. Ben Weston, medical services director for Milwaukee County’s Office of Emergency Management, said last week.

As a result, the county shifted its key indicator for cases to red from yellow after experiencing a significant uptick in the 14-day trend of positive COVID-19 cases.

Weston also noted that the state has more COVID-19 hospitalizations than during any other point during the pandemic.

“These very worrying trends in our community naturally lead to concerns among the public,” Weston said.

The latest run of record-breaking COVID-19 cases began to take hold earlier this month as students returned to college campus. But the jump in cases isn’t limited to college-age people. 

“It often comes down to social interactions without masks in larger numbers,” Cassidy said. “That’s the only thing that can explain spikes. And the more people who have it, the faster it spreads.”

Cassidy stressed the need to continue taking important steps to limit the spread of the virus.

“We all need to take personal responsibility, especially going into the winter when we are going to be going indoors more,” she said. “And with the coming flu season people really need to take responsibility and wear a mask, keep their distance, wash their hands and avoid gatherings.”

Residents throughout the state must remain diligent in their efforts to reverse the course of the pandemic, Cassidy said.

“I know it’s hard and everybody is weary and would just like it to go away, but we are the only ones who can stop it from spreading. We just have to be as careful as we can until there’s a safe and effective vaccine, and there will be.”

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Rich Rovito is a freelance writer for Milwaukee Magazine.