Declining COVID-19 Levels Potentially Due To Less Testing, Palm Says

DHS Reports 4,034 New Cases, 57 New Deaths Thursday

A motorist is tested for COVID-19
A motorist is tested for COVID-19 at a drive-thru testing site outside McCoy Stadium in Pawtucket, R.I, Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2020. David Goldman/AP Photo

New reports of COVID-19 cases are on the decline, although still fairly high in Wisconsin, based on the latest data published by the state Department of Health Services.

DHS reported 4,034 new cases of the disease Thursday, bringing the average for the past seven days to 3,770 daily cases. Daily new cases have generally been falling since mid-November, when the average was more than 6,500. On a call with reporters, DHS Secretary Andrea Palm said the decline is potentially due to a lower number of total tests performed over the past two weeks.

“With our positivity rate as high as it is, we know we are not testing enough people to get an accurate picture of the virus,” she said.

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There were 57 new deaths from COVID-19 reported Thursday. On Thursday, 8,521 tested negative.

Of the people who got tested for COVID-19 over the past week, 28.7 percent were positive for the disease, according to DHS. That rate has been on the decline.

The positivity rate 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 COVID-19. A lower rate could indicate testing is more widespread. Changes in the test positivity rate can also speak to COVID-19’s spread, if the size and makeup of the testing pool stays consistent.

On Sept. 30, DHS also introduced an alternative positivity rate, one that measures the percentage of tests that are positive, instead of the percentage of people who get a positive result. The new metric takes into account people who have been tested multiple times. The seven-day average for that number is at 12.3 percent.

According to the Wisconsin Hospital Association, there were 1,535 COVID-19 patients hospitalized as of Wednesday. A total of 18,875 people have been hospitalized because of the disease, or 4.4 percent of all positive cases.

The latest figures bring the overall total of positive cases in Wisconsin to 426,099, according to DHS. A total of 3,944 people in Wisconsin have died from COVID-19.

COVID-19 activity varies from county to county. The latest activity data from DHS, released Wednesday, showed 24 counties had a “critically high” level of COVID-19 activity, while 47 were listed as having a “very high” level of activity, and one, Waushara County, had a “high” level That’s a notable change from the previous week when 41 counties were listed as “critically high”. Wisconsin’s overall level moved from “critically high” to “very high” since last week, according to DHS.

COVID-19 activity designations are based on 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.

As of Wednesday, two of Wisconsin’s regions — the western, and southeast regions — had “critically high” levels of activity, while two others — the Fox Valley and northeast regions — had “very high” activity that was growing.

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 59,675 as of Thursday. The number of actual people with new test results reported Thursday was 12,555.

A total of 2,650,677 people have been tested over the course of the pandemic. Of those, 2,224,578 have tested negative.