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La Crosse County sees 123% jump in COVID cases, state records over 13,000 infections Thursday

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La Crosse County experienced a 123% increase in COVID-19 cases this week, and the state is reporting up to 13,000+ new infections per day.

Drive-through COVID testing

A billboard looms over the Gunderson Health System drive-through COVID-19 testing site on La Crosse’s North Side Thursday as motorists wait to be tested.

For the seven-day period ending Jan. 8, the La Crosse County Health Department reported 2,189 COVID-19 infections, an average of 312 per day for a 28.3% positivity rate.

In a post Wednesday, La Crosse County Health Department officials urged residents to get their vaccine, stay home if experiencing any symptoms, even mild, and masking.

“Consider rescheduling events and gatherings, or finding safer ways to do your daily activities,” the Health Department added.

In Wisconsin, the case burden for the two-week period ending Jan. 11 was 2,490.9 per 100,000, with a 36% increase in trajectory. La Crosse County’s burden was 3,212.6 per 100,000 with growth in trajectory. Every county is rated critically high as of Jan. 13.

The state as of Thursday had a seven-day average of 9,915 new cases per day — including a record of over 13,000 on Jan. 13 alone — for a 27.4% positivity rate. A total of 10,434 deaths were confirmed as Thursday, including 141 in La Crosse County. Statewide, confirmed cases totaled 1,116,893, with 24,552 among La Crosse County residents.

Drive-through COVID testing

Traffic backs up all the way to Salem Road Thursday near Gundersen Health System’s drive-through COVID-19 testing site on La Crosse’s North Side. Case levels remain high in the area due to the spread of the highly contagious Omicron variant.

The Wisconsin Hospital Association reported 2,278 current COVID-19 hospitalizations as of Jan. 12, including 488 ICU patients. In the Western region, those numbers were 66 and 11, respectively, with no ICU beds immediately available. For the two-week period ending Jan. 11, DHS reported growth in overall hospitalizations but no significant change in Western Wisconsin. Statewide 95.1% of hospitals had their ICUS at peak capacity, and 28% of ventilators were in use.

Drive-through COVID testing

A line of cars forms outside the Gundersen Health System drive-through COVID-19 testing site on La Crosse’s North Side Thursday. The spread of the Omicron variant in the region has put a high demand on testing.

In Wisconsin, 58.6% of residents were fully vaccinated as of Jan. 12, as were 64.3% of La Crosse County residents.

Dr. Abinash Virk

Dr. Abinash Virk

Mayo experts: Boost your protection

During an online forum, “The COVID-19 Pandemic: Where Do We Go From Here,” Mayo Clinic Health System physicians discussed the importance of a booster dose of the vaccine in light of omicron’s highly infectious nature.

Dr. Abinash Virk shared data from studies out of the U.K., which found those with three doses of an mRNA vaccine had an 81% reduction in hospitalization risk due to omicron. For those with two doses, protection dropped to 65%. Another study, in the preprint stage, found two shots of the Pfizer vaccine provided 72.2% protection against infection from delta, but only 34% for omicron. Adding in a third dose increased protection to 92.6% for delta and 72.2% for omicron. Previous COVID infection does not offer effective neutralizing activity against omicron.

Omircon, Virk says, has a shorter incubation period than delta — three versus four days — and in the UK hospitalizations for those with the omicron variant were around half of those for delta. Death rates also appear to be lower, but Virk notes “data lags behind” and the “full picture (is) unclear yet.”

While a fourth dose of the Pfizer vaccine was shown to be safe in a study from Israel, and boosted antibody level five-fold, Virk says it is not yet know if a fourth shot will be recommended.

Treatments for those with omicron include the monoclonal antibody sotrovimab and newly approved oral medications Paxlovid, which reduces hospitalization by 89% if started within five days of symptom onset, and molnupiravir, which lowers risk by 30%. The availability of these drugs is limited, and there is not enough supply at present to treat all those who qualify.

“Optimistically,” some level of herd immunity could be reached by late spring, but Virk says it is “difficult to predict” if COVID will ever stop circulating entirely.

“We still have a lot of virus floating around and a large number of people who are susceptible to the illness,” Virk says. “Unfortunately the vaccines don’t provide absolute protection. (And) recent data has suggested SARS-COV-2 has adapted to infections in animals — that risk is there that there may be a non human reservoirs.”

In addition, Virk notes, new variants continue to form, and it is likely COVID will be comparable to influenza at some point, an endemic rather than pandemic.

Get tested, stay home if symptomatic

Virk says the new CDC guidelines which shorten isolation and quarantine periods are “challenging” and may ultimately need adjusting for factors like symptom type and vaccination status. Dr. Raj Palraj of Mayo says it is a “balancing act that the CDC and public officials have to do,” and is based on evidence that after five days the “risk of transmission goes down dramatically.”

“If we say you have to wait for 10 days, then we are looking at a lot of absences in the essential services and the hospital community and so on,” Palraj says.

It is imperative that individuals with symptoms follow the recommendations to stay home, including those who haven’t yet had a chance to be tested. COVID testing is in high demand and wait times should be anticipated.

Local COVID testing sites include Mayo Clinic Health System, Gundersen Health System, COVID Clinic, Weber Health Logistics, La Crosse County Health Department events, UWL and Walgreens.

Emily Pyrek can be reached at emily.pyrek@lee.net.

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