DHS: More Covid hospitalizations and cases coming due to Delta variant, unvaccinated people and Bucks gatherings
MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Wisconsin is headed in the wrong direction in its ongoing fight against COVID-19, Department of Health Services officials said, warning several factors are a concern the trend will worsen before it gets better.
In a media briefing, DHS leaders said the upward trend of Covid cases and hospitalizations in the state mirror that of the country, but two regions, the Fox Valley and southeastern Wisconsin, are particular hot spots at the moment.
"Cases are up all over the state, just as in all over the country," said Dr. Ryan Westergaard, the chief medical officer for the DHS Bureau of Communicable Diseases. "When we talk about severe illness requiring hospitalizations, those are the two regions that seem to be leading the curve."
Wisconsin's seven-day average of daily Covid cases is up to 242 per day, 2.8 times higher than it was two weeks ago. In that same time period, hospitalizations have nearly doubled from 74 up to 143.
According to DHS, nearly all of those filling up hospital beds currently are unvaccinated patients.
"The data are holding in terms of the effectiveness of the vaccine that upwards of 90 percent of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 are people who are not vaccinated," DHS Deputy Secretary Julie Willems Van Dijk told reporters.
DHS reported since Jan. 1, there were 222 hospitalizations per every 100,000 non-fully vaccinated people in Wisconsin, while there were 9 hospitalizations per every 100,000 fully-vaccinated people in the state, a 24-fold difference.
State officials said they expect an uptick in southeastern Wisconsin partly because of large gatherings from the Bucks' NBA Finals run and large gatherings associated with it.
"That combination of unvaccinated people […], the fact that people were really boisterous and yelling loud, which is a great way to spread infection, the presence of the Delta variant in our state -- I anticipate we'll see additional cases as a result of those gatherings," Van Dijk said.
DHS also has its eyes on the start of the school year for young children and young people returning to college campuses. They are hoping to avoid a repeat of 2020's back-to-school season which led to the state's pandemic peak in cases, hospitalizations and deaths.
"The beginning of our fall surge really started the week after many campuses opened to students," Dr. Westergaard said. "Now is the ideal time for people attending universities in the fall to be vaccinated in time to come back."
It's also the ideal time for children ages 12 and up to get vaccinated, health leaders said, because younger patients require two doses to complete their series, which can total up to about five weeks between the first shot and the completed two weeks after the second dose for full protection.
"Kids need to get vaccinated now to be fully protected by the time school starts," Van Dijk said.
As the school year approaches, DHS said it will continue to let local school districts determine what mitigation policies and strategies best work for their communities, such as masks, social distancing and other efforts. Children under the age of 12 are not yet able to be vaccinated.
With the Delta variant, unvaccinated people, recent large gatherings, continued effects of misinformation and the return to class for students posing a potential for more suffering from the virus, state health leaders again pushed the need for an increase in people getting vaccines, with the state only at about 50 percent fully vaccinated, well short of the needed 70 to 80 percent for herd immunity.
"There is a way out of this, a way to stop these increases in cases, hospitalizations and deaths," Van Dijk said. "We do that by getting vaccinated."