DHS Reports Record Number Of COVID-19 Tests, 728 New Cases

State Health Officials Touted Wisconsin's Growing Coronavirus Testing Program

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Worker in PPE approahces a vehicle with a COVID-19 test
A member of the Wisconsin National Guard approaches a vehicle before testing for COVID-19 on Tuesday, July 14, 2020, in Walworth, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

New reports of COVID-19 cases are down slightly from last week in Wisconsin, based on the latest data published by the state’s Department of Health Services.

DHS reported 728 new cases of the virus on Tuesday, bringing the average for the past seven days to 839 daily cases.

One week ago, the average was 870 daily cases. Daily new cases have been declining since late July, when the average reached 930 cases.

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The latest figures bring the overall total of positive cases in Wisconsin to 56,056, according to the DHS. A total of 961 people in Wisconsin have died from COVID-19, with 12 new deaths reported on Tuesday.

According to DHS, 4 percent of all test results reported on Tuesday were positive for COVID-19, the lowest since July 7, bringing the average percentage of positive tests over the past seven days to 6.3. The seven-day average a week ago was 6.8.

The percentage of positive tests 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 24,156 as of Tuesday. The number of actual tests reported on Tuesday was 18,138, the highest number since the pandemic began.

Health officials touted the state’s testing program Tuesday, noting Wisconsin can now process nearly 150,000 tests per week and encouraging anyone experiencing even mild symptoms to get tested for the virus.

The state must continue to build its testing resources as schools prepare to reopen, said DHS Deputy Secretary Julie Willems Van Dijk. Increased testing is now being provided to skilled nursing facilities, she said.

She also noted that national commercial labs are experiencing the longest turnaround times when it comes to processing tests. In Wisconsin, labs are turning around tests in an average of one to three days, she said.

Overall, DHS has recorded a total of 984,901 tests over the course of the pandemic, with 928,845 coming back 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 61 counties had a “high level” of coronavirus activity. Nine counties were classified as having medium levels of activity: Ashland, Crawford, Green, Green Lake, Iowa, Jackson, Vilas, Vernon and Richland. Only two, Florence and Rusk counties, had low levels of activity. Every region in the state was considered to have high 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.

There have been confirmed cases in all 72 counties, and based on the data from July 29, only one county reported no new cases over a two-week period.

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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 met both of those criteria Tuesday.

According to DHS, 4,783 people have been hospitalized because of the virus as of Tuesday. That means at least 9 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 19,084 people, or 34 percent.

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