State health officials 'optimistic’ as COVID-19 cases decline, suggest endemic near

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MADISON, Wis. (CBS 58) – State health officials are not declaring victory over the pandemic yet, but they did have some positive news to share during a COVID-19 briefing Thursday.

The Wisconsin Health Department is reporting a significant decline in the 7-day average for new COVID-19 infections, with 7,369 cases.

The data is drastically different compared to an alarming single-day record of more than 18,000 cases on Jan. 19.

The state’s top medical officer said the data could suggest we’re close to an endemic by the end of 2022.

“It’s great news, we had peaks of 18,000 cases in a single day and now our average is in the 4,000s. The good news is we’re heading in the right direction,” said Dr. Ryan Westergaard, chief medical officer at DHS.

Westergaard did not further explain his prediction, but warned cases could spike again especially with the new subvariant of omicron.

He also added we may reach a time where case numbers remain steady.

The subvariant, BA.2 – also known as “stealth omicron,” was first detected on Jan. 16 in Wisconsin.

Health officials said while it’s more contagious than the original omicron variant, it doesn’t appear to be more severe.

“It’s not a new or more dangerous variant, but the fact that it might spread more easily – your chances of catching it is still quite high,” Westergaard said.

As for vaccination rates, data shows the number of people getting the shot continues to dwindle.

Governor Tony Evers said it’s “possible” the state might offer another round of cash incentives to encourage more people to get the shot, but added he’s hesitant to do so.

“It’s possible, but we have to understand there are folks in Wisconsin that just are not going to be vaccinated, they refuse,” Evers said. “If there was a program available and we knew we could get thousands of people vaccinated, I’d do it in a heartbeat.”

While the state might not offer you cash, the city of Milwaukee is giving away $100 gift cards for those who get their first dose.

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