Wisconsin’s COVID-19 Cases Surpassing New York City At Its April Peak

'This Virus, And The Death It Brings With It, Are Everywhere,' Says Assistant DHS Secretary

A sign requiring masks at the Door County Medical Center
Patients and visitors entering the lobby of the emergency department at Door County Medical Center in Sturgeon Bay, Wis. are instructed to wear masks to curb the spread of COVID-19. Door County Medical Center is a small, 25-bed critical access hospital serving 30,000 people across Door and northern Kewaunee counties. Photo taken Aug. 5, 2020. Coburn Dukehart/Wisconsin Watch

Wisconsin’s seven-day average of new COVID-19 cases has surpassed New York’s highest seven-day average in April, said Assistant Department of Health Services Secretary Julie Willems Van Dijk on Thursday.

“COVID-19 is everywhere in our state,” she said. “It is bad everywhere, and it’s getting worse everywhere. It is straining hospitals, and people are dying.”

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Wisconsin averaged 6,209 cases per day over the past seven days, compared to 5,292 cases in New York at its peak. Wisconsin is home to around 5.8 million people, compared to 8.4 million in New York City.

“At the beginning of this pandemic, I know a lot of us looked at New York City in disbelief,” said Van Dijk. “Here in Wisconsin, COVID-19 is that bad now, and worse.”

Van Dijk noted that New York City’s density, and the sirens audible around its boroughs during the April peak, made the virus hard to ignore.

“The residents of our state are more spread out, so it’s easier to miss the crisis,” she said. “But this virus, and the death it brings with it, are everywhere in the state.”

DHS reported 7,497 new cases of the disease Thursday. That new case total is the highest that figure has ever been, surpassing Tuesday’s record of 7,073.

The seven-day average for new cases has increased every day since Nov. 1, when the average was 4,385 new cases per day. A broader upward trend in daily new cases began in early September, when the state was averaging below 1,000 cases per day.

There were 58 new deaths from COVID-19 reported Thursday. On Thursday, 14,911 tested negative.

Over thirty-six percent of people who got tested for COVID-19 over the past week were positive for the disease, according to DHS. That rate has been on the rise for more than a month.

The positivity rate 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 COVID-19. A lower rate could indicate testing is more widespread. Changes in the test positivity rate can also speak to COVID-19’s spread, if the size and makeup of the testing pool stays consistent.

On Sept. 30, DHS also introduced an alternative positivity rate, one that measures the percentage of tests that are positive, instead of the percentage of people who get a positive result. The new metric takes into account people who have been tested multiple times. The seven-day average for that number is at 18.9 percent.

According to DHS, there were 2,102 COVID-19 patients hospitalized as of Wednesday. A total of 13,771 people have been hospitalized because of the disease, or 4.7 percent of all positive cases.

“I believe we’re getting to the point where hospitals are strained, and are likely to run out of staff before they run out of physical space,” said DHS chief medical officer Ryan Westergaard.

The latest figures bring the overall total of positive cases in Wisconsin to 293,388, according to DHS. A total of 2,515 people in Wisconsin have died from COVID-19.

COVID-19 activity varies from county to county but things are severe statewide. On Wednesday the DHS revised is categories for severity to include a “critically high level,” which the agency said is three times higher than “very high,” the former top level. The DHS showed 65 counties had a “critically high level” of COVID-19 activity, and the rest had a ” very high” level of activity. Wisconsin overall had a “critically high” level of activity.

COVID-19 activity designations are based on 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, the north-central region of the state had the most new cases per capita over the previous two weeks, while the northwest region saw cases rise most rapidly.

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 59,194 as of Thursday. The number of actual people with new test results reported Thursday was 22,408.

A total of 2,258,167 people have been tested over the course of the pandemic. Of those, 1,964,779 have tested negative.