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State health officials raise concern as delta variant cases grow in Wisconsin
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State health officials raise concern as delta variant cases grow in Wisconsin

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State health officials on Thursday issued a grim reminder that the COVID-19 pandemic is far from over in Wisconsin as the more contagious delta variant of the coronavirus continues to spread — mostly among unvaccinated residents.

The seven-day average of COVID-19 cases reached 242 cases per day, almost three times higher than the 85 daily cases just two weeks ago, according to the state Department of Health Services.

Cases remain considerably lower than they were in late 2020 and early this year, but health officials say the delta variant is expected to continue to push up infection rates nationwide until more individuals get vaccinated.

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“What we know is this variant is extremely infectious and it will spread even more quickly than any form of COVID we have seen to date and it will spread most effectively to those who are not vaccinated,” DHS Deputy Secretary Julie Willems Van Dijk said on a call with reporters Thursday. “More infected people means we will see more hospitalizations and more deaths.”

Hospitalization rates have increased from 74 two weeks ago to 143 Thursday. Since January, the state has experienced more than 145,000 confirmed and probable COVID-19 cases among individuals who are not vaccinated. Just 2,390 positive or probable cases have been reported among fully vaccinated individuals over that period.

“When we’re talking about a virus that, left unchecked will essentially infect every human on the planet, having a tool that can reduce the risk of hospitalization and death by 90% will save millions of lives,” said Dr. Ryan Westergaard, a chief medical officer with the health department. “This is one of the most powerful public health interventions that we have at our disposal right now. It’s foolish of us to not use it to the greatest extent possible.”

Some cases and deaths are expected even after full vaccination because no vaccine is 100% effective and people with weaker immune systems may not respond as well to it, experts say.

About 50% of the state’s adult population is fully vaccinated and more than 5.7 million doses of the vaccine have been administered.

Asked about the size of the crowd in Milwaukee both Tuesday, when the Milwaukee Bucks clinched their first NBA championship in 50 years, and Thursday, when tens of thousands took to the streets for a parade and stage celebration, Willems Van Dijk said such crowds have a very high likelihood of further spreading the coronavirus.

“We are concerned,” she said. “We know people wanted to be jubilant and celebrate, but we know, as I said, half the state is fully vaccinated and so half the state is not, and I assume the same applies to the people in the Deer District and in the arena, and I didn’t see half the participants wearing a mask, which would be the recommended behavior.”

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“What we know is this variant is extremely infectious and it will spread even more quickly than any form of COVID we have seen to date."

Julie Willems Van Dijk, DHS deputy secretary 

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