The latest surge in COVID-19 driven by the highly contagious Omicron variant is finally on the decline, a top local health official said on Tuesday.
“I would say we are past the peak of this Omicron variant,” said Dr. Ben Weston, chief health policy officer for Milwaukee County.
Key metrics that measure the spread of disease in the community have been falling, he noted.
“Overall, our trends are moving in the right direction. We’re seeing declines in cases, in positivity, hospitalizations and finally in deaths,” Weston said. “In the next two weeks, we would anticipate being in a much better place with our disease burden throughout the county and the state.”
Milwaukee County is experiencing an average of 312 new cases of COVID-19 per day, down from 517 new cases per day last week. An average of five people in the county are dying of COVID-19 per day, about the same as a week ago.
Several factors are contributing to the declining numbers, including ongoing mitigation measures, Weston said.
“A big part of it is immunity. Vaccine-derived immunity is the safest way to get immunity,” he said. “And then there’s just what we’ve seen with every variant. At some point, the variant burns through the susceptible population and those declines start to come.”
COVID-19 cases in the city of Milwaukee continue to decline but remain in the extreme transmission category at 222 cases per 100,000 residents, down from 400 cases per 100,000 residents one week earlier.
Testing metrics fell to the substantial transmission level after more than two months at the extreme level, with a positivity rate of 9.7%, down from the week-ago figure of 14.5%.
“Our percent positivity rate has not dropped below the extreme transmission category, or the 10% mark, since Dec. 2 of last year,” Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson said.
The number of Milwaukee adults 16 years of age and older who have received both vaccine doses stands at 62.6%, with 67.9% having received at least one dose. The number of individuals who are fully vaccinated and have received a booster shot stands at 43.9%.
“We continue to see numbers lower for the disease in our community, which is a welcome sign after the surge we had,” Johnson said. “It’s my hope that we continue to see these numbers drop further in the coming weeks.”
Last week, the city launched a vaccination incentive program in which Milwaukee residents could receive a $100 gift card upon getting their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine at any Milwaukee Health Department clinic.
As of Tuesday morning, all but 90 gift cards had been handed out. He expected the remaining cards to be distributed in short order.
“I’m glad to see that the incentive program has been a success,” Johnson said.
The city could consider ending its current mask mandate if the numbers continue to decline, he added.
“If the trends continue to go the way they are, I’d be interested in reviewing that legislation,” Johnson said.
The Milwaukee Common Council approved a citywide mask mandate in January. Under the ordinance, anyone age 3 or older is required to wear a mask or face covering when inside any building that is open to the public. Exceptions include when actively eating or drinking, receiving dental or medical services, or actively engaging in a sport.
The mandate is set to run through March 1, at which time the council could vote to extend the ordinance or simply let it expire, although action on the ordinance could be taken earlier.