Health officials highlight need for masks and other measures as COVID-19 rises
The latest wave of COVID-19 has not peaked, and increased vaccinations, masks, physical distancing and crowd avoidance remain essential if Wisconsin is to reduce the spread as soon as possible, have health officials said Wednesday.
The soaring workload and accompanying tension “are all due to the highly contagious delta variant [of the coronavirus] we have been talking about and fighting for weeks now, ”Karen Timberlake, secretary-designate for the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS), said in an agency briefing Wednesday. “And that’s why it’s really important that we increase the urgency of focusing on what we know is working to protect us all from the delta variant.”
Almost 3.1 million people in Wisconsin are fully vaccinated, or about 53% of the population, Timberlake said. Yet the spread of the virus that began in early summer continues.
There are now more than 707,000 people in the state who have been infected with the virus since the start of the pandemic. As of Wednesday, the state had averaged 2,857 new cases per day over the past seven days – nearly double the seven-day average two weeks earlier, and a 123% increase from a month ago . The number of confirmed deaths from COVID-19 has now reached 7,854.
The death rate is likely to rise as the number of cases increases, said Dr Ryan Westergaard, chief medical officer in the Communicable Disease Office of DHS. While vaccination reduces the risk of death, increased transmission of the delta variant will produce more cases, and more hospitalizations and deaths, “until we get as low as possible.”
About 5% of the state’s hospital beds and 5% of intensive care unit beds are available, Timberlake said, and hospitals as well as long-term care providers are reporting insufficient staffing.
Wednesday’s DHS COVID-19 briefing was the agency’s first since the start of the school year on September 1. As school resumed in person this fall, children represent a growing share of those who have tested positive for the coronavirus. People 11 and under are not yet eligible for the vaccine.
This underscores the importance of taking action in schools and elsewhere to curb the spread, Timberlake said.
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“What we need to remember is that children live in families and families live in communities,” she said. Whether or not they have severe symptoms, infected children can pass it on to family members and friends who may not be vaccinated. And some children may develop a rare but serious later disease, multisystem inflammatory syndrome, she added.
To ensure the safety of children in school and to ensure that teachers, staff, family members and community residents also remain safe from the pandemic, “we must use all the tools in our toolkit to fight COVID-19, “said Timberlake – including vaccinations for children 12 years of age or older, and vaccinations” for anyone working with children, especially younger ones who cannot be vaccinated ”.
Students, teachers, nursery nurses, school staff and visitors – vaccinated or not – must always wear masks, she added. She called the masking “in fact the only thing that can be done universally to protect children of all ages from contracting COVID-19 and potentially spreading it to vulnerable people in their lives.”
In response to a question, Timberlake acknowledged that the decisions of the State Supreme Court during the pandemic had led to “certain restrictions on state authority” to impose measures such as the masking of this DHS, as well as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), have been recommending, especially for schools, since early summer. But she underlined the role that local authorities have played in implementing these recommendations.
“What is also true is that we have a lot of very hard work to do in our state – with local school officials, with local public health officials, with parent groups and other leaders. communities who understand what it takes to make schools run safely, ”says Timberlake. While the agency offers advice and help when needed, she continued, “we really rely on these local decision makers to make sure they adopt strategies that will work to keep children safe. and vulnerable adults in the community. We know what works, the tools are available. And we really need people to take the tools from the toolbox and use them.
In-person school, extracurricular activities, sports and other school-related gatherings help explain the increase in school-related epidemics compared to a year ago. But Westergaard stressed that this was not the only source of the new wave.
“It’s not just the schools issue that’s driving the transmission,” he said. “We really have a generalized epidemic. Transmission is now everywhere. Wherever people congregate, we can reduce risk by applying these prevention strategies on multiple levels – and the message is that we can and must. “