COVID-19 cases had been levelling off in Wisconsin, but now they’re creeping back up

Wisconsin health officials urge vaccination ahead of holidays, cold weather when more people are inside

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A blue sign says "COVID Testing" on it.
A sign points to a location on UW-Eau Claire’s campus where students can be tested for COVID-19 on Saturday Aug. 28, 2021. Angela Major/WPR

New cases of COVID-19 and hospitalizations from the disease are starting to creep upward again in Wisconsin as cold weather, holiday gatherings and low vaccination rates create conditions that officials caution could erase progress against the pandemic.

In Milwaukee, new infections jumped significantly, rising from 152 cases per 100,000 people compared to 122 per 100,000 over the course of a week. There and elsewhere in the state, vaccination rates have stubbornly remained too low to effectively corral the disease. And COVID-19 keeps spreading, health officials say, as more people backslide on mask wearing and other mitigation efforts.

“Each of these things affects the virus and affects the trends. But in the end, no one can give an answer to where we’ll be in a month or two months,” said Dr. Ben Weston, Milwaukee County health policy advisor.

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On Tuesday, the pharmaceutical manufacturer Pfizer asked federal regulators to approve an additional dose of its vaccine for those worried about waning immunity. This comes as more children are now eligible for COVID-19 shots.

But surveys suggest some parents want to wait, and as many as 30 percent of parents with children who are ages 5 to 11 years old will “definitely not” vaccinate them, according to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll.

While children are less likely to get severely ill from COVID-19 than adults, they can still spread the disease to others, and more easily with the delta variant, doctors say.

“Anytime, even in asymptomatic cases, that these children contract covid, they can easily pass it on to anyone in their household or their community,” said Dr. Bill Hartman who is leading a clinical trial of the Moderna vaccine in children 6 months to four years old.

On Tuesday, the Arena at the Alliant Energy Center in Dane County started offering COVID-19 vaccine to children ages 5 to 11. This Saturday, the Milwaukee health department will have COVID-19 vaccine and flu shots at the Fiserv Forum, home to the NBA champions Milwaukee Bucks. There, health officials, say children getting their first shots and adults getting their first, second or third dose of COVID-19 vaccine can take a picture of themselves with the Larry O’Brien NBA Championship Trophy.

In China, two children infected with the virus led to an outbreak of 246 people. COVID-19 spread in schools to then to factories, mostly through family contact, according to a study which hasn’t been peer-reviewed.

On Tuesday, state health officials reported 3,229 new infections of COVID-19. Cases have been rising since the end of October, along with hospitalizations.

Editor’s note: This story has been corrected to state the number of new COVID-19 infections Tuesday was 3,229.

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