State Health Officials Warn Wisconsinites As Delta Variant Spread

DHS Deputy Secretary: 'We Are Clearly Seeing A Surge In Cases'

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"Face mask not required" sign at a business in Sauk City, Wis.
“Face mask not required” sign at a business in Sauk City, Wis. on June 11, 2021. Bill Martens/WPR

State health officials reported more than 1,400 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday and warned that Wisconsin is in the midst of a surge.

The seven-day average for new cases has increased 40 percent over the past week, and it’s 11-times higher than it was a month ago, Gov. Tony Evers said during a news conference.

“All 72 counties are experiencing high or very high disease activity, and our health care providers are preparing for the worst,” he said.

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Officials with the state Department of Health Services attributed the increase to the highly contagious delta variant, which is already circulating in Wisconsin.

DHS Deputy Secretary Julie Willems Van Dijk said the delta variant is “much more contagious” than the original strain of COVID-19. A person infected with the delta variant will typically pass it on to twice as many people as someone infected with the original strain, she said.

“As the weather changes and more people move indoors, the virus will spread even more rapidly,” she said. “If you are unvaccinated and exposed, it’s not a matter of if you’ll get it, it’s when.”

Officials encouraged Wisconsinites to get vaccinated and wear masks. Willems Van Dijk noted that vaccinated people who are infected with the delta variant can pass it on to others.

Ultimately, the state needs to achieve an 80 percent vaccination rate, Willems Van Dijk said. Right now, about half of Wisconsin residents are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 — a rate comparable to Florida, she pointed out.

Like Florida, Wisconsin could also experience a record number of cases and another strain on its health care system in the coming weeks, she said.

“We find ourselves in a situation that we hoped was in the past,” she said.

The state reported four new COVID-19 deaths on Thursday, bringing the total for the pandemic to 7,466.

Evers Administration Is Considering Vaccine Mandate For State Workers

Evers hasn’t ruled out requiring state employees to get vaccinated. His administration will decide on that policy within the next week, he said.

“We’re looking at all options. Clearly, as an employer of many thousands of people, we want to make sure that we’re doing our part to get shots in arms,” he said.

On Wednesday, Minnesota joined a handful of states in requiring its workers to be vaccinated.

Evers said he doesn’t plan to join California by pushing for a state requirement for health care workers and teachers to be vaccinated. He thinks those decisions should come down to employers, and he supports the decisions of health care systems that have already instituted vaccine requirements, he said.

“Health care institutions require their staff to be vaccinated for many other illnesses,” Willems Van Dijk added.

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