Coronavirus Update: Wisconsin Sees Highest Ever Rate Of Positive Tests

More Than 27 Percent Of COVID-19 Tests Came Back Positive Sunday

A woman in a mask and face shield reach into a vehicle to give a flu shot to the driver
Gary Eckstein of Middleton gets a flu shot from pharmacy student Cierra Brewer, center, at a drive thru location Monday, Sept. 21, 2020, at the UW Health Pharmacy Services building in Middleton. Angela Major/WPR

More than 27 percent of coronavirus tests came back positive Sunday. That’s a record high based on the latest data published by the state’s Department of Health Services.

The seven-day averages for new cases and test positivity rate also reached their highest levels since the pandemic began. This comes after state health officials reported a single-day record for new cases on Saturday.

New reports of COVID-19 cases remain high, despite a drop in testing Sunday. DHS reported 2,217 new cases of the virus on Sunday, bringing the average for the past seven days to 2,091 daily cases. One week ago, the average was 1,720 daily cases.

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Wisconsin recorded more than 2,000 daily cases for the first time on Sept. 17. In the 10 days following, the state has seen more than 2,000 daily cases six times.

The latest figures bring the overall total of positive cases in Wisconsin to 115,862, according to the DHS. A total of 1,281 people in Wisconsin have died from COVID-19, with no new deaths reported on Sunday.

According to DHS, 27.6 percent of all test results reported on Sunday were positive for COVID-19, bringing the overall percentage of positive tests over the past seven days to 17.9. That figure has been steadily rising this month.

The percentage of positive cases is often read by public health officials as a measure of overall testing levels. A high rate could indicate that testing in the state is limited, and skewed toward those already flagged as potentially having the virus. A lower rate could indicate testing is more widespread.

Changes in the test positivity rate can also speak to a virus’ spread, if the size and makeup of the testing pool stays consistent.

Wisconsin’s daily testing capacity — based on the availability of test supplies and adequate staffing — has grown from 120 available lab tests in early March to 38,959 as of Sunday. The number of actual people with test results reported on Sunday was 8,023.

Overall, DHS has recorded a total of 1,515,080 people’s test results over the course of the pandemic. Of those, 1,399,218 have tested negative.

COVID-19 activity varies heavily from county to county. The latest coronavirus activity data from DHS, released once per week each Wednesday, showed that all 72 Wisconsin counties had a “high level” of coronavirus activity. Activity level designations are based on “burden,” or the number of new cases per a county’s population over a 14-day period, as well as whether there’s an upward or downward trend in new cases.

On Sept. 23, counties with the highest case rates per capita included Forest, La Crosse, Kewaunee and Florence counties. The counties with the most significant upward trends included Menominee, Price and Lafayette and Ashland counties.

COVID-19 hospitalizations are also at a record high in the state, with the Wisconsin Hospital Association showing 528 hospitalized patients in Wisconsin as of Sept. 24. DHS reported 54 new hospitalizations Sunday.


DHS still has a dashboard showing Wisconsin’s progress on gating criteria under the now-defunct Badger Bounce Back Plan. Those gating criteria would have been used to determine when it would be safe to begin reopening the state, prior to the state Supreme Court ruling that ended a statewide stay-at-home order. The state has never met all six of the criteria at once.

Two of the criteria are a statistically significant 14-day downward trend in COVID-like cases reported in emergency departments, and a similar downward trend for influenza-like cases in emergency departments. On Sunday, Wisconsin met neither criteria.

According to DHS, 7,095 people have been hospitalized because of the virus as of Sunday. That means at least 6.1 percent of people who have tested positive for the new coronavirus in the state have been hospitalized. DHS officials said they don’t know the hospitalization history of 43,009 people, or 37 percent.