Milwaukee officials mark 2 years of COVID with in-person briefing

NOW: Milwaukee officials mark 2 years of COVID with in-person briefing

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- It's been two years since the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in Milwaukee County. Leaders are reflecting on how the pandemic has impacted the community.

County officials held the first in-person COVID-19 briefing since the height of the pandemic at North Division High School Monday. It was also a chance for community members to come and ask questions. "Who would've imagined that after two years COVID would still be such a significant part of our lives," said Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson.

The message to the public was to be cautiously optimistic when it comes to COVID. While cases are trending downward, officials say the virus still poses a risk to the community. Throughout the pandemic, case numbers spiked, countless people were hospitalized, and there were more than 1,000 deaths in the Milwaukee area. Jobs were also lost and students were greatly impacted.

"To keep that safety in place and still teach can be very, very hard and if we get some type of notice that there may be a case in our building, that's frightening for them," said Elaine Lathen, MPS teacher.

Officials say vaccination rates across the county are still not where they should be. "Our populations of color have substantially low vaccination rates than our white populations. School-aged children are not vaccinated nearly at high enough rates in this county," said Dr. Ben Weston, chief health policy advisor for Milwaukee County.

Milwaukee leaders also say less than half of those who are fully vaccinated have gotten a booster shot. As a fourth shot is likely to be recommended soon, officials are stressing vaccinations across the board to keep the cases down. "If we don’t vaccinate more of our most vulnerable population, if we don’t vaccinate kids, we will likely see increase in cases," said Kirsten Johnson, commissioner of health for Milwaukee Health Department.

Johnson also says they're monitoring recent increases of COVID-19 in wastewater which could indicate virus spread, but more data needs to be collected.

"Locally, we see and are closely following some increases in wastewater levels of the virus. Specifically the Jones Island sewer. It's too early to see trends there but in this time of low community testing, wastewater is a valuable resource to help us understand future trends in this disease," said Dr. Weston.

Still no word from the World Health Organization on what metrics need to be met for the pandemic to officially come to an end.

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