The rate of new COVID-19 cases in Wisconsin is highest among school-age children, and schools are reporting more than twice as many outbreaks as at the same time last year, state health officials said Wednesday.
With a daily average of 2,857 new cases, 1,103 people hospitalized with COVID-19 and 19 newly reported deaths, the state’s delta variant surge shows no sign of slowing and continues to challenge heath care providers, officials said.
“We are still seeing a concerning rate of growth,” said Karen Timberlake, secretary of the state Department of Health Services, adding that only 5% of intensive care beds and 5% of medical-surgical beds remain available. “Our hospitals and our hospital systems across the state are feeling the strain of this increase in disease activity.”
The state’s rate of new COVID-19 cases was highest among ages 14 to 17 last week, followed by ages 9 to 13, according to preliminary data. School outbreaks — including those linked to sports and extracurricular activities — are more than double this time last year, but the delta surge is being fueled by transmission everywhere, said Dr. Ryan Westergaard, a chief medical officer with the state health department.
The Madison School District said Wednesday in its weekly COVID-19 report that 112 students, teachers or staff tested positive for COVID-19 within the past 14 days and 621 were required to quarantine because of exposure. Both figures were up from last week.
The only schools with more than six new COVID-19 cases within the past two weeks were three elementary schools: Schenk, with nine; Elvehjem, with eight; and Sandburg, with seven. Schools with the highest number of people quarantining were West High School, with 212; Sandburg, with 77; and Whitehorse Middle School, with 66.
Employees of the Madison School District will need to show proof of full vaccination status or request an exemption by Nov. 1, under a plan released this week. The district will confirm vaccination documentation and evaluate exemption applications by Dec. 1, according to the plan, to be voted on by the School Board Monday after being requested by the board last month.
Staff not in compliance will be placed on unpaid leave starting Dec. 15, and a notice of termination for “unvaccinated and nonexempt employees” will be sent the week of Dec. 20, the plan says.
Monona Grove School District employees will have to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by Dec. 1, after the School Board voted 4 to 1 Tuesday for the requirement, according to the district.
With 40.4% of children ages 12 to 15 and 46.6% of ages 16 and 17 fully vaccinated in Wisconsin, Timberlake encouraged more inoculations for those groups and adults. Children 11 and younger remain ineligible, though Pfizer said Monday it will soon seek authorization for ages 5 to 11.
The Wisconsin Hospital Association said 1,103 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 as of Wednesday, the highest level since Jan. 6. There were 318 COVID-19 patients in intensive care, down from Tuesday but up from 233 a month ago. A Centers for Disease Control forecast says COVID-19 hospitalizations should gradually decline nationally the first half of next month and begin to stabilize in Wisconsin.
Timberlake, during a news briefing, was asked about the COVID-19 risk presented by large events where mask wearing might be inconsistent, such as Green Bay Packers games, the Ryder Cup golf tournament this weekend near Sheboygan and Oktoberfest in La Crosse next week. She said sponsors should stress vaccination, masks, distancing when practical and staying outdoors when possible.
“We know what we need to do to keep ourselves safe, and so there’s kind of a shared responsibility here,” she said.
"We are still seeing a concerning rate of growth.”
Karen Timberlake, secretary of the state Department of Health Services