Wisconsin counties seeing ‘high’ COVID-19 activity as holidays approach

Dane County extends indoor mask order, Milwaukee County has highest level of daily COVID-19 infections it's seen all year

A sign says that masks are required
A sign requiring masks is displayed on the door at the Green County Health Department on Thursday, Aug. 12, 2021, in Monroe, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

An interactive map by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows every county in Wisconsin has “high levels” of COVID-19 transmission.

The map shows a sea of red across Wisconsin and much of the United States. Health officials are concerned friends and families getting together for Thanksgiving risk spreading more than holiday cheer this year if they don’t get vaccinated and test for infection status before traveling or sitting down at the table.

“When it comes to COVID, we are not even close to being out of the woods,” said Dr. Ben Weston, associate professor at the Medical College of Wisconsin and health policy advisor for Milwaukee County. “We are deep in the woods. Wisconsin is the sixth-worst state in the country in cases per population.”

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Milwaukee County now has more daily COVID-19 infections than it has had all year. There’s concern in the county about lagging vaccination rates in older teens who have been eligible for shots much longer than younger kids. Less than half of children ages 12 to 15 year are fully vaccinated and 16- to 17-year-olds just topped the halfway mark, said Darren Rausch, director of the Greenfield Health Department, a suburb of Milwaukee.

In Dane County, cases have nearly doubled in the past three weeks, prompting health officials to extend a mask order that was set to end Saturday. Public Health Madison and Dane County said earlier this month they didn’t anticipate having to extend the emergency order, but the rate of COVID-19 disease among kids is at an “all-time high.”

Dane County Health Director Janel Heinrich said the new face mask order, which was announced Tuesday and expires Jan. 3, provides more time for newly eligible 5- to 11-year-olds to get their first and second doses and for more adults to get booster shots.

Since late October, average daily cases of COVID-19 have been rising across the state along with hospitalizations. As of Tuesday, 56 percent of Wisconsin residents are fully vaccinated.