DHS Reports 17.6 Percent Positivity Rate In Tuesday’s COVID-19 Update

7-Day Average Rises to 11.3 Percent, Highest The State Has Seen Since March

Two ladies in face masks stand near parked cars as they take a selfie together
Caroline Slatter, left, and Marlene Sukkert take a selfie before the DNC drive-in watch party Thursday, Aug. 20, 2020, at the Milwaukee County Zoo. Angela Major/WPR

New reports of COVID-19 cases are holding at around 840 cases per day in Wisconsin following a sharp increase in the first week of September, based on the latest data published by the state’s Department of Health Services.

However, the percentage of tests that were positive soared to 17.6 percent on Tuesday, a test positive rate not seen since the early days of the pandemic in March, when the state was reporting fewer than 10 tests per day.

DHS reported 717 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, bringing the average for the past seven days to 842 daily cases. One week ago, the average was 727 daily cases.

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The latest figures bring the overall total of positive cases in Wisconsin to 82,477, according to the DHS. A total of 1,168 people in Wisconsin have died from COVID-19, there were no new deaths reported on Tuesday.

Tuesday’s remarkably high test positive rate brings the overall percentage of positive tests over the past seven days to 11.3 percent, the highest it’s been since the start of the pandemic. A week ago, the seven-day test-positive rate was 8.5 percent.

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 27,080 as of Tuesday. The number of actual people with test results reported on Tuesday was 4,083, one of the lowest totals the state has had in months.

Overall, DHS has recorded a total of 1.31 million people’s test results over the course of the pandemic. 1.23 million 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 64 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.

As of Wednesday, counties with the highest case rates per capita included Juneau, Iron, Brown and Racine. The counties with the most significant upward trends included Kewaunee, Forest, Adams and Shawano.

There have been confirmed cases in all 72 of Wisconsin’s counties and all counties reported new cases of COVID-19 in the last two weeks.


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. According to the DHS, the state has not had such a trajectory among influenza-like cases, but it has for COVID-like cases.

According to DHS, 6,118 people have been hospitalized because of the virus, or 7.4 percent. DHS officials said they don’t know the hospitalization history of 34 percent of all cases.