Wisconsin on Tuesday reported its worst day of the pandemic yet with a record number of cases, hospitalizations, deaths and active COVID-19 infections.
The state Department of Health Services reported 7,073 new cases and 66 deaths, bringing the death toll to 2,395.
Saturday and Tuesday mark the two times Wisconsin has surpassed 7,000 new cases in a day. The numbers are not outliers: They are indicative of the weeks of fast-rising daily case counts the state has seen since early September.
“COVID continues unabated and worse than ever,” said Ben Weston, director of medical services for the Milwaukee County Office of Emergency Management.
“We need to buckle down, we need to be personally responsible and we need to protect our community,” he said.
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The seven-day average of new daily cases, a measure meant to smooth out anomalies and help illustrate trends, has been rising for weeks. On Tuesday, the seven-day average reached a new high of 5,825 — an increase of more than 1,300 in the last week.
Two months ago on Sept. 10, just as the surge in cases was beginning in Wisconsin, the state hit what was then a record-high seven-day average of 1,003 new cases per day.
Heading into the holiday season, health officials warned that even small gatherings are dangerous and spread the coronavirus easily.
Weston urged residents to celebrate Thanksgiving with only the people living in their households.
“Our numbers are trending so poorly, we can’t afford to have any events push us even further in the wrong direction,” he said.
Milwaukee is not alone; the virus is raging in all corners of the state. Wisconsin’s daily case numbers are the third-highest in the country, according to New York Times data, behind Illinois and Texas, and are on par with California’s daily numbers — all states with populations several times Wisconsin’s.
Also of major concern to health officials are the rising hospitalizations and deaths from the virus — a direct result of high case numbers in the weeks prior. Because cases have continued their meteoric growth and do not show any sign of slowing down, experts expect the situation to worsen.
Wisconsin broke its record for the largest single-day jump in COVID-19 hospitalizations Monday with an increase of 143 patients.
As of Tuesday, there were 2,070 people hospitalized with the virus, including 418 patients in intensive care units. Both numbers were all-time highs, and it was the first time the number of coronavirus ICU patients cracked 400.
“No matter how well-positioned our health care assets are, no health care system and no hospital can keep up with caring for patients on this current worsening trajectory,” Weston said.
The average daily death toll over the last seven days hit a new record of 42; two months ago, it was 7.
The average positivity rate also hit a new high of 36% Tuesday. The measure looks at first-time positive tests over the last seven days.
The sustained, rising positivity rate is especially “troubling” considering testing has increased, Weston said.
“You’d typically suspect that increased testing numbers would drive down the percent of people testing positive, but we’re seeing the opposite,” he said.
“This is a bad sign. It’s a sign of accelerating trends, and no slowing of those trends in sight,” he said.
All National Guard testing sites will be closed Wednesday for Veterans Day. The DHS suggests contacting your local health department to find out their hours of operation for Wednesday. A list of health department contact information is here.
In Milwaukee, the Northwest and Southside Health Center testing sites will be closed, but the Miller Park testing site — run with both National Guard members and Milwaukee Health Department staff — will remain open. Find a list of community testing sites here.
More than 2.2 million people have been tested statewide for the virus. Of the 278,843 Wisconsinites who have tested positive:
- 76.9%, or 214,469, have “recovered” by DHS standards, meaning there is documented proof their symptoms have resolved or it’s been 30 days since their diagnosis.
- 22.2%, or 61,944, are considered “active,” meaning they aren’t recovered and haven’t died.
Milwaukee hospitals near capacity, testing in high demand
In Milwaukee County, hospitals are nearing capacity, with 90% of floor beds and 75% of ICU beds in use.
As of Tuesday, there were a record 486 COVID-19 patients in hospitals in Milwaukee County, a seven-fold increase in two months.
Weston asked people not to walk into emergency departments seeking routine coronavirus testing in an effort to preserve resources for the “critically ill” COVID-19 patients.
The three Milwaukee Health Department testing sites continue to test more people than their designated capacities, and staff at the Miller Park site have cut off long lines early on multiple occasions in an effort to complete testing by its 6 p.m. closing time.
Miller Park, which has a capacity of about 2,000 tests per day, on Monday tested more than 2,800 people.
Also Tuesday, Aurora Health Care announced it was temporarily closing its community testing sites in Milwaukee, Green Bay and Kenosha to focus on “bedside” care as it faces staffing shortages.
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett criticized Aurora’s decision, saying Milwaukee was already under “incredible pressure” to keep up with testing demand and that the city health department, with its limited resources, should not be expected to “pick up the slack” from Aurora stopping testing.
“I believe that all the hospital systems and all our federal community health centers should remain partners with us as we continue to test. We cannot do it ourselves,” he said. “This is not a time to be leaving the partnership.”
Barrett also urged people to get flu shots to help keep quickly dwindling hospital beds available for COVID-19 patients. Children’s Wisconsin and the Milwaukee Health Department will offer free flu vaccines to anyone from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the following locations:
- Wednesday, Nov. 11: Anna F. Doerfler Elementary School – 3014 W. Scott St.
- Thursday, Nov. 12: Zablocki Community School – 1016 W. Oklahoma Ave
Most of the new rapid testing sites at University of Wisconsin System campuses have opened. They are free and available to anyone who needs a test. To register for a test, go to doineedacovid19test.com and select Wisconsin to see the hours for UW testing sites near you.
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