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1,000,000th COVID-19 case reported in Wisconsin

Published: Jan. 3, 2022 at 1:47 PM CST|Updated: Jan. 3, 2022 at 5:59 PM CST
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - Just a week after Wisconsin health officials needed to begin adding an extra digit to track the number of people who died from COVID-19, they required a seventh digit to count how many of the state’s residents contracted the virus.

Wisconsin has surpassed one million confirmed cases of COVID-19, according to the state Dept. of Health Services latest figures. The agency also tracks probable cases of coronavirus, which adds approximately ten percent to that number, and this higher figure is often reported in national statistics. However, DHS highlights those confirmed cases and NBC15 News has consistently relied on that number since the early days of the pandemic.

The millionth case was reported Monday in DHS’ published statistics and comes one day shy of 700 days since Wisconsin’s first case was discovered in Dane Co. Since then, the state averaged over 1,430 cases per day, varying from relatively low numbers in the early days and over the most recent summer to November 2021, when that average peaked at 6,498 cases per day and remained over 1,000 through into February. No days approached those worst days until recent weeks, starting in August, and they now stand at the second highest point yet recorded. DHS’ latest figure puts the seven-day rolling average at 4,626 cases per day over the past week, approximately 63 times higher the number tallied in July 2021 and the most since vaccinations were rolled out.

Wisconsin surpassed 1,000,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases, on Jan. 3, 2022.
Wisconsin surpassed 1,000,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases, on Jan. 3, 2022.(Dept. of Health Services)

Just last week, Wisconsin reached the confirmed 10,000 deaths connected to COVID-19, the agency’s figures showed. That total equals approximately one percent of the one million case count. Like cases, DHS also tracks probable deaths linked to the virus and that figure too is around ten percent higher, continuing the trend of deaths reflecting approximately a tenth of the case total; this time when counting confirmed and probable of each.

Wisconsin surpassed 1,000,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases, on Jan. 3, 2022.
Wisconsin surpassed 1,000,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases, on Jan. 3, 2022.(Dept. of Health Services)

This latest spike also created nearly unprecedented burdens on hospitals throughout the state. The Wisconsin Hospital Association finds COVID-19 has contributed to over 93 percent of ICU beds and 92 percent of intermediate beds being currently filled. In recent weeks, multiple portions of the state, particularly in the north and west had run out of room in their ICUs. The situation led to pleas from hospitals for people to get vaccinated or, if they are eligible, to get a booster shot. Additionally, health officials and doctors urge wearing face coverings, as is still required in many public places in Dane Co. and they remind everyone to continue following the safety protocols encouraged from the early days of the pandemic through today, including social distancing, using hand sanitizer, and washing hands for at least 20 seconds.

DHS reports that since the pandemic reached Wisconsin, one in five people who test positive for the virus end up in the hospital. That percentage increases with age, that data find. Among the age groups, which are divided by decade, the hospitalization rate reaches that average mark among those between 50 and 59 years old. For the two age groups calculating those over age 80, the rate skyrockets to nearly one in three, or 31 percent.

Wisconsin surpassed 1,000,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases, on Jan. 3, 2022.
Wisconsin surpassed 1,000,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases, on Jan. 3, 2022.(Dept. of Health Services)

Breaking Down the Numbers

The fight against COVID-19 has lasted nearly two years and, as the previous numbers demonstrated, still likely has a way to go. In that time, some DHS numbers reflect the progress against the virus, while others show fewer signs of it letting up. For example, as other state’s saw their initial spikes sooner that Wisconsin, the slower spread here resulted in DHS not recording the first half-million cases for 339 days, on Jan. 5, 2020. Almost exactly one year later that number has doubled to the current figure. That translates to more than 1 in 6 Wisconsinites have contracted COVID-19 in the past twenty months.

DateNo. of CasesNo. of Days since 1st Case
Feb. 5, 20201
March 18, 202010043
March 28, 20201,00053
May 9, 202010,00095
Sept. 19, 2020100,000228
Jan. 8, 2021500,000339
Jan. 1, 20221,000,000699

Individually, Wisconsin counties have varied in their responses and successes combatting the virus. Dane Co., where local health officials have imposed multiple repeating mask mandates, has recorded 70,107 cases, a per capita rate of 12,485 cases per 100,000 residents, the third lowest rate in the state behind Bayfield and Ashland Counties (10,764 and 11,680/100K, respectively).

In southwestern Wisconsin, the highest per capita rate is found in Green Lake Co. and Dodge Co, which slotted in third and fourth for highest rates. Green Lake stands at 20,964 per 100,000 residents, while Dodge was at a 20,620-case rate, with the former recording 3,987 total cases and the latter having 18,434 positive tests.

Rock Co., meanwhile, has tracked 25,326 cases, putting its rate at 15,472 cases per 100,000 residents. That leaves the county in the top 20 for lowest rates and puts it squarely in the range of nearly all other counties in Wisconsin. While the rates range from Bayfield County’s statewide low end to Menominee County’s high, 54 of 72 Wisconsin counties fall within the range of 15,000-20,000 cases per 100,000 people.

At 168,987 cases, Milwaukee Co. unsurprisingly has tallied the most cases, in absolute terms, across Wisconsin; its population being larger than all other 71 counties – in most cases, by a significant margin. Reducing to the per capita basis, the highest total moves to Menominee Co., where local health officials have recorded 24,230 cases per 100,000 residents, or nearly one-quarter of the counties population of 4,255 residents.

Statewide, the 1 in 6 figure puts the per capita COVID-19 infection rate at more than 16,666 per 100,000 residents.

Wisconsin surpassed 1,000,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases, on Jan. 3, 2022.
Wisconsin surpassed 1,000,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases, on Jan. 3, 2022.(Dept. of Health Services)

Vaccination Rates Slow

Wisconsin has yet to reach herd immunity. The first vaccinations reached the state in December 2020. At that time, only frontline workers, such as doctors and nurses, were eligible. Slowly, through phases and sub-phases, that process opened up as vaccine producers ramped up production. At the end of March, Gov. Tony Evers expanded eligibility to everyone 16 and older in the state.

“Expanding #COVID19 vaccine eligibility today marks a major milestone in our work to overcome this pandemic and bounce back together,” he wrote on Twitter at the time, including a reference to his administration’s plan to restore an economy devastated by the pandemic.

The goal of herd immunity, in which so many people are vaccinated the virus has a hard time continuing to spread. For DHS, that goal is 70 percent. In March, then-DHS Deputy-secretary Julie Willems Van Dyck predicted there would be enough vaccines to reach that goal by June. While the shipments of vaccines did increase, so did the difficulty of convincing those who remained unvaccinated to get the shot. Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson, who is one of the million-plus Wisconsinites to have contracted COVID-19, helped fuel that skepticism, standing in contrast to most other state leaders and health officials.

Two months after that initial prediction, Willems Van Dyck moved the goal to an optimistic July, but told the Associated Press that a more realistic date would be in September or October of that year.

On Friday, DHS reported just under 3.4 million Wisconsinites were fully vaccinated, which includes completing the vaccination series and waiting two weeks afterwards. According to its figures, that equates to 58.1 percent of the state’s population, or 83 percent of that 70 percent goal. As of that day, only three counties – Brown, Dane, and Menominee – have crossed that 70 percent threshold of fully vaccinated.

Wisconsin surpassed 1,000,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases, on Jan. 3, 2022.
Wisconsin surpassed 1,000,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases, on Jan. 3, 2022.(Dept. of Health Services)

Dane Co., which includes Madison, leads the state in vaccination rates, as it has for a lion’s share of the time vaccinations have been universally available. Despite that, and with a face covering mandate in place, the county health agency, Public Health Madison & Dane Co., is currently recording the highest infection rates of the pandemic, surpassing November 2020, the period during which the state, as a whole, was racking up its highest totals.

As cases increase, though, DHS data consistently show the highest number of cases per capita, by far, are among the 40 percent who are not vaccinated. Those who are unwilling or unable to receive a vaccine are over 4.5 times more likely to get sick than those who considered fully vaccinated (3,348.2 vs. 722.5/100,000 residents, according to most recent figures). They are nearly 11 times more likely to end up in the hospital, while the death rate for the unvaccinated is 12.5 times higher.

COVID-19 infection rate disparity between vaccinated and unvaccinated in Wisconsin, on Dec. 15,...
COVID-19 infection rate disparity between vaccinated and unvaccinated in Wisconsin, on Dec. 15, 2021.(Dept of Health Services)

Demographics

Younger adults are contracting the virus at the highest rates, DHS finds, as they have since cases began rising in the first summer of the pandemic. Eighteen to 24-year-olds have maintained the highest infection rate, with more than one in five of them (22,576.6/100k) testing positive at some point. That cohort is followed by Wisconsinites between 25 and 34 years old, although the margin between them is shrinking as the age group overtook their younger counterparts in two months ago for most new cases.

DHS found many minority communities are feeling the effects of the pandemic to a degree greater than their percentage of the population. Individuals identifying as Hispanic, despite making up 7.1 percent of the state’s population, account for a tenth of all cases. The Native American and Black communities follow, with their share of infections being higher than their portion of the population by 20 and 14.2 percent, respectively. White and Asian-American/Pacific Islander both have seen case rates below average.

Wisconsin surpassed 1,000,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases, on Jan. 3, 2022.
Wisconsin surpassed 1,000,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases, on Jan. 3, 2022.(Dept. of Health Services)

(ed. note: Unless otherwise cited, all numbers are based on figures from Friday, Dec. 31, 2020)

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