DHS Reports 15 New COVID-19 Deaths, High Virus Activity Levels In 65 Counties

DHS Reported 857 New COVID-19 Cases Wednesday

A healthcare worker administers a COVID test
A COVID-19 test technician speaks to someone in the drive thru Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2020, at UW-Madison. Angela Major/WPR

New reports of COVID-19 cases are on the rise in Wisconsin, as testing has also ticked up, based on the latest data published by the state’s Department of Health Services.

DHS reported 857 new cases of the virus on Wednesday, bringing the average for the past seven days to 886 daily cases, the highest that figure has been since late July.

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Though new case counts have varied dramatically from day to day, the seven-day average has climbed steadily over the last week. One week ago, the average was 696 daily cases.

The latest figures bring the overall total of positive cases in Wisconsin to 83,334, according to the DHS. A total of 1,183 people in Wisconsin have died from COVID-19, with 15 new deaths reported on Wednesday. No deaths had been reported since Saturday, when DHS also recorded 15.

COVID-19 activity varies from county to county. The latest coronavirus activity data from DHS, released once per week each Wednesday, showed that 65 counties had a “high level” of coronavirus activity, an increase of one from last week. 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 Wednesday, counties with the highest case rates per capita included Forest, Portage, Brown and Kewaunee. The counties with the most significant upward trends included Grant, Marquette, Green and Door.

Every Wisconsin county has reported at least one new COVID-19 case over the last two weeks, although Price County is experiencing a low level of coronavirus activity, according to DHS.

According to DHS, 9.7 percent of all test results reported on Wednesday were positive for COVID-19, bringing the overall percentage of positive tests over the past seven days to 11.7. That figure has been rising over the last week — seven days ago it was 8.4 — after more than 17 percent of tests came back positive Tuesday, and more than 16 percent came back positive Sunday.

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 38,080 as of Wednesday. The number of actual people with test results reported on Wednesday was 8,871.

Overall, DHS has recorded a total of 1,321,507 people’s test results over the course of the pandemic. Of those, 1,238,173 have tested negative.


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. Wisconsin currently meets the former, but not the latter.

According to DHS, 6,173 people have been hospitalized because of the virus as of Wednesday. That means at least 7 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 38,233 people, or 34 percent.

On Wednesday, Wisconsin health officials urged residents to get their flu shots this year to avoid overburdening health care providers during cold and flu season.