Saturday, June 29, 2024

Is there a summer wave of COVID cases in Wisconsin?

From JSOnline:

Maia Pandey

Most of the country, including Wisconsin, is seeing a summer uptick in COVID-19 cases — but experts say the numbers are not yet a cause for concern and consistent with seasonal fluctuations in the virus.

As of June 18, the number of infections was growing or likely growing in 39 states and territories, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC estimates there is about a 95% chance case numbers are growing in Wisconsin. No states are seeing cases decline.

The increase in cases also comes as a new strain of the virus becomes the most dominant in the country: the KP.3 variant accounted for 33.1% of cases as of June 22, up from 25.9% in early June, according to the CDC. The variant outpaced JN.1 as the most dominant in May and has been on the rise since.

What are COVID levels like in Wisconsin?

Both the CDC and Wisconsin Department of Health Services no longer track individual COVID cases, but rather estimate transmission based on emergency department visits and hospitalizations or wastewater testing. In Wisconsin, the number of hospitalizations due to COVID went up 14% between June 9 and June 22. 

More specifically, hospitalizations are climbing in northeast, north central, western and south central regions of the state, according to DHS. The north central region saw the highest increase, with COVID hospitalizations rising 43% in June. The southeast region, which includes Milwaukee, saw no significant change in COVID hospitalizations throughout June.

As of June 22, wastewater testing across the state also shows a slight uptick in levels of COVID detected, with seven of the collection sites reporting a “significant increase.” But take these numbers with a grain of salt: the levels of detected virus are still far below the highs detected in 2021 and 2022, and virus levels have been decreasing overall since January.

Most Wisconsin cities are seeing historic low levels of COVID, especially compared to the winter surges in the virus, according University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee professor Sandra McLellan, whose lab works with the state on wastewater testing.

“When you’re in low numbers, a few increases can make it look like it’s doubling and tripling, when, in fact, it’s just kind of the variability you might expect,” McLellan said.

The slight rise in COVID is consistent with what experts have seen in past summers, with virus levels rising in August 2022 and 2023, she added. 

“That might be that people are gathering — there’s a lot of outdoor festivals, there's a lot of mass gatherings going on,” McLellan said. “But it’s not near what we see in the wintertime, when it can really spike up.”

How will the Republican National Convention affect COVID spread in the city?

In Milwaukee, the Jones Island test site reported a moderate level of COVID, and the south shore test site reported a low level. But this data, which was last updated June 26, doesn’t account for potential cases during the second and third weekends of Summerfest and the upcoming RNC.

McLellan said the lab anticipates increases in the virus during large events in most cities: for example, cases usually tick up in Green Bay during the first couple Green Bay Packers games, she said.

For the RNC, however, the lab plans to increase its testing from twice weekly to daily during the week before, after and during the event — which it has not done previously for other large events. An estimated 50,000 people will come into the city for the four-day convention.

Though the data will likely not be available before people leave town for the convention, McLellan hopes it encourages people to refer to the state’s COVID data more often and monitor the spread of the virus in their city.

“We really encourage people to look at the dashboard,” McLellan said. “I think that really is helpful as people are deciding, ‘Do I want to go to gatherings with a lot of people, or do I want to take some extra precautions?’”


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