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Indoor masks urged again for 7 Wisconsin counties

Attorney General Alan Wilson is joining 20 other states in a multistate action against...
Attorney General Alan Wilson is joining 20 other states in a multistate action against President Biden’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continued use of the unlawful mask mandate on public transportation.(Pexels)
Published: May. 16, 2022 at 12:23 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - State health officials are urging the residents of seven Wisconsin counties who stopped wearing masks when COVID-19 cases fell across the state to grab them again when they leave home.

The Department of Health Services issued the recommendation Monday after the most recent weekly update from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed all seven had reached High COVID-19 community levels.

“As cases increase statewide, all Wisconsinites have an essential role to play in keeping ourselves and our communities healthy and protecting those around us, especially those who are at high-risk for severe illness,” DHS Secretary-designee Karen Timberlake said.

On Monday, the average number of new cases per day ticked higher again, after state officials recorded more than 5,000 total cases over the three days since the last report. With the latest figures, the average now stands at 2,193 cases per day, the highest level in more than three months.

Following last week’s update, a majority of Wisconsin counties found themselves in medium or high categories, a far cry from a month ago, when all 72 counties were at low levels. The seven counties affected by DHS’ new recommendation are:

CountyCase Rate (per 100K)New COVID-19 admissions (per 100k)Inpatients beds with confirmed COVID-19 patients
Barron196.7120.22.7%
Kenosha236.4910.11.8%
La Crosse397.4214.83.4%
Monroe201.0714.83.4%
Racine247.5710.11.8%
Rusk112.8520.22.7%
Vernon256.3114.83.4%
CDC COVID-19 Community Levels, on May 13, 2022.
CDC COVID-19 Community Levels, on May 13, 2022.(Dept. of Health Services)

Despite not moving into the high category, Dane Co. is seeing far more cases per capita than any of those seven, CDC data show. According to the agency’s numbers, it registered nearly 500 cases per 100,000 residents over the past week. The highest total among the ‘High’ counties was La Crosse, which was seeing nearly 200 fewer cases per 100,000 residents (484 vs 297/100K).

Two other south-central Wisconsin counties, Columbia and Sauk, also saw case counts that exceeded the high counties on a per capita basis, tallying 362 and 330 cases per 100,000 people, respectively.

CountyCase Rate (per 100K)New COVID-19 admissions (per 100k)Inpatients beds with confirmed COVID-19 patients
Columbia330.254.92.5%
Dane4844.92.5%
Sauk361.574.92.5%

The CDC’s community levels, however, rely as much on hospitalization levels as case counts. For a county with the case rates of Columbia, Dane, or Sauk to move into the High category, they would need to be admitting more than 10 people per 100,000 residents into the hospital over that week, or more than 10 percent of available hospital patients would have to have been admitted because of COVID-19. All three counties hospital admission are half of what would move them into the high category, and COVID-19 patients make up about 2.5 percent of occupied hospital beds, according to the CDC.

While not including hospitalizations, Public Health Madison and Dane Co. noted the gap between cases and deaths last week, relative to other Wisconsin counties, crediting it to the county’s vaccination rate, which continues to lead the country.

Also last week, the Rock Co. Public Health Department acknowledged its county moving from Low to Medium, with new cases rising to 275 per 100,000 residents. However, its health officials too pointed out that hospitalizations and bed capacity had not changed significantly, which they attributed to its high vaccination rate.

“We are cautiously optimistic that the level of immunity we currently have in the community will prevent some of the serious illnesses that we have experienced in prior COVID-19 surges,” Health Officer Katrina Harwood said, adding that surges in hospitalizations tend to have an approximately two-week lag from case increases.

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