The Wisconsin Department of Health Services added a “critically high” category to their disease activity dashboard Wednesday, reflecting a surge of COVID-19 activity in the state.
The new category represents greater than 1,000 cases per 100,000 residents and is three times higher than the previous top category, “very high.”
As of Wednesday, 65 of Wisconsin’s 72 counties were classified as “critically high” while the remaining seven — including Dane County — are classified as “very high.” Within the last two weeks, the entire state’s case activity level was classified as “critically high.”
DHS Deputy Secretary Julie Willems Van Dijk said the department hopes this new data classification will help people recognize the level of disease activity in their region and make the decision to stay home.
“Far too many of our communities are in a dire situation,” Van Dijk said. “To put these new data in perspective, Wisconsin is now seeing more average cases per day than New York City did at the peak of its surge last spring. Because of these critically high levels of disease, public health can no longer adequately contact trace, hospital beds are filled with patients with COVID-19 and too many Wisconsin families are losing loved ones to this virus.”
On Wednesday, the seven-day average percent positive rate was 36.4 percent. Wisconsin recorded 7,497 new confirmed COVID-19 cases Thursday, surpassing the previous record set on Tuesday. The state recorded 58 deaths on Thursday, bringing the total to 2,515 total deaths.
Only 11 percent of staffed hospital beds are available as of Thursday afternoon. Twenty percent of about 2,000 hospitalized patients are in the ICU. Hospitalizations have spiked in the southeast region of the state, which includes Milwaukee and neighboring counties.
In a DHS media briefing Thursday, Chief Medical Officer Ryan Westergaard said that the spread of the virus could overwhelm the healthcare system and force hospitals to divert admissions.
“There are likely areas right now where hospitals have to go on divert and cannot accept patients that they normally would. The concern is that as this becomes more prevalent and more widespread, there may be instances where people who have needs for emergency medical care won’t have a place to go in time,” Westergaard said.
Van Dijk discussed UW-Madison’s response to the pandemic, saying that the combination of testing, contact tracing, isolation and quarantine made the “curve go way down” from early September.
Westergaard added that there is a risk for people who have been around others who have tested positive or in an environment where there is a high level of community spread.
“I’m thinking specifically about students going home for holidays and Thanksgiving, someone who’s been in that environment has a risk of developing the infection for 14 days. And a test says you’re not infected right now but it doesn’t say that it’s safe to be in close contact with others for two weeks,” Westergaard said.
Gov. Tony Evers did not offer any details on his upcoming COVID-19 legislation, which he announced in an address Tuesday.
“I’m looking forward to having a discussion with the leaders of the Assembly and the Senate around what we can do, but they continue to be, at least last time I heard publicly, they’re not in favor of mandating anything, and that makes it more difficult,” Evers said in Tuesday’s briefing.
state news writer