Wisconsin COVID-19 Cases Rise As September Spike Hits College Towns

DHS Reports 1,408 New Coronavirus Cases In Wednesday Data

two people walk by some hand sanitizer on a small stand displayed with the image of Bucky badger
People walk past a hand sanitizing station Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020, at UW-Madison. Angela Major/WPR

The spike in new COVID-19 cases continued in Wisconsin on Wednesday, as the state’s Department of Health Services reported increases in the number of positive tests and the seven-day average.

DHS reported 1,408 new cases of the virus, bringing the average for the past seven days to 1,339 daily cases. On Wednesday, DHS reported eight people died from COVID-19.

The increases come two days after the state set a new daily record for positive tests, with 1,582 new cases confirmed Sunday. University of Wisconsin System campuses have ramped up testing of students who have been back on campus in recent weeks. One week ago, the seven-day average for new cases stood at 1,004. On Sept. 1, it was 981.

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The latest figures bring the overall total of positive cases in Wisconsin to 92,712 since the pandemic began, according to the DHS. A total of 1,228 people in Wisconsin have died from COVID-19.

On Wednesday, counties experiencing a spike in cases since the beginning of September included Dane, Eau Claire and La Crosse — all counties with large four-year college campuses in them. There have been confirmed cases in all 72 of Wisconsin’s counties, and every Wisconsin county reported at least one new case over the preceding week in new county-level data.

COVID-19 activity varies heavily from county to county. The latest coronavirus activity data from DHS, released once per week each Wednesday, showed 71 counties had a high level of coronavirus activity; only one, Price County, showed a medium level. 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.

According to DHS, 11.5 percent of all test results reported Wednesday were positive for COVID-19, bringing the overall percentage of positive tests over the past seven days to 14.1 percent. That figure rose Wednesday after declining slightly Monday.

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 38,562 as of Wednesday. The number of actual people with test results reported on Wednesday was 12,196.

Overall, DHS has recorded a total of 1,388,025 people’s test results over the course of the pandemic. More than 1.2 million 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 did not meet either criteria on Wednesday.

According to DHS, 6,454 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 32,299 people, or 35 percent.