Over 1 million Wisconsin residents vaccinated as DHS signals opening COVID-19 vaccine eligibility to everyone 16 and older early

As Wisconsin passed 1 million fully vaccinated residents, state health officials said they would likely move the date that all Wisconsin adults would be eligible from May to sometime in April. 

At a Milwaukee Press Club Q&A Monday, Julie Willems Van Dijk, the deputy secretary of the state Department of Health Services, signaled that vaccine eligibility would open up to everyone 16 and older sometime in April, earlier than originally planned. She said the state would announce the date “very soon.”

President Joe Biden says 90% of adults will be eligible for the vaccine by April 19. Ten states plan to open eligibility for the vaccine to all adults this week, ahead of Biden’s target. Six states — Kansas, Louisiana, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma and Texas — expanded vaccine eligibility to all adults on Monday.

But in Wisconsin and around the nation, health officials are in a race to vaccinate as many people as possible before virus variants can take hold.

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, CDC director, said at a morning White House COVID-19 briefing that daily infections are up 10% from a week ago. Hospitalizations are once again on the rise, she said, and deaths, a lagging indicator, averaged nearly 1,000 per day last week after four consecutive days below 850.

Walensky also expressed concern about increasing travel and a general easing in restrictions across the nation. 

“Right now I’m scared,” an emotional Walensky said. “When we see that uptick in cases what we have seen before is that things really have a tendency to surge and to surge big. I just worry that we will see the surges that we saw over the summer and the winter again.”

Willems Van Dijk said she is also concerned about the rise in cases, particularly in neighboring Michigan, where COVID-19 cases are shooting up and COVID-19 variants have been detected in high numbers.

“We know state boundaries are arbitrary when it comes to disease transmission,” she said during the Monday press club event.

Last week, Michigan had the third-highest COVID-19 case rate per capita in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In the last month, Michigan’s coronavirus curve has shot up, mirroring the trajectory it took in the fall. Health officials suspect it is driven by more transmissible strains of the virus, including B.1.1.7, or the United Kingdom variant. The Detroit Free Press reported that nearly 40% of B.1.1.7 cases in the state are associated with outbreaks at Michigan prisons

Willems Van Dijk encouraged people not to travel around the country for spring break, particularly to states with high numbers of the more transmissible variants, such as Florida. She said she is hopeful that people will “band together” to both get vaccinated and continue wearing masks and doing other preventive measures to keep the virus at bay.

“But there is a little piece … that is very scared that if we get a variant of this disease that is particularly lethal to young people, who may be less inclined to get vaccinated … we could be in a bad situation, and I hope that is not the case,” she said. “Let’s get vaccinated, and let’s just hold the line for a little bit longer.”

The Department of Health Services reported 1,001,142 Wisconsin residents have completed the vaccine series — roughly 17% of Wisconsin residents. 

A little over 29% of Wisconsin residents have received at least one dose of the vaccine, or about 1.7 million residents. 

“We’re happy to see folks in Wisconsin doing their part and getting vaccinated when it is their turn,” said Gov. Tony Evers. “Keep up the good work, and we’ll be back to our Wisconsin way of life before you know it.” 

Wisconsin is first in the nation in percentage of doses administered, according to a news release issued by the governor’s office. 

COVID-19 vaccine snapshot as of 3.29.21

Track COVID and the vaccine in Wisconsin:Track the latest data on cases, deaths and our pace on vaccines

More:What we know about Wisconsin’s COVID-19 vaccine plan, who’s eligible and when

Latest COVID-19 numbers

  • New cases reported: 296
  • New deaths reported: 3
  • Number hospitalized: 227 (intensive care: 58); down 63 patients from one month ago
  • Seven-day average of daily cases: 468 (down 158 cases from one month ago)
  • Seven-day average of daily deaths: 4 (down 14 from one month ago)
  • Seven-day average positivity rate — as a share of all tests given: 2.6%
  • Total cases since the start of pandemic: 576,044 (6,483 active cases)
  • Total deaths: 6,601

Latest vaccine numbers

  • Total doses administered: 2,720,952
  • Wisconsin residents with at least one dose: 1,707,247 (29.3% of the population)
  • Residents with both doses: 1,001,142 (17.2% of the population)
  • Residents 65 and older with at least one dose: 760,854 (74.8% of 65+ population)

Sarah Volpenhein of Journal Sentinel staff contributed to this story.

Contact Drake Bentley at (414) 722-3811 or DBentley1@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter at @drake_bentley.