Wisconsin reports record 7,497 new coronavirus cases and 58 deaths as the seven-day case average passes 6,000
As Wisconsin reported yet another record-shattering day of COVID-19 cases Thursday, only 8% of intensive care unit beds remained available and health officials urged people to avoid even small gatherings heading into the holiday season.
The state Department of Health Services on Thursday reported a record 7,497 new cases and 58 deaths, bringing the death toll to 2,515.
"COVID-19 is everywhere in our state. It's bad everywhere, and it's getting worse everywhere," DHS Deputy Secretary Julie Willems Van Dijk said Thursday in a news conference.
The average number of new daily cases over the last seven days reached a new high of 6,209. It is the first time the seven-day average cracked 6,000 and is an indicator of case counts that have risen six-fold over the last two months, picking up speed in recent weeks and repeatedly breaking records.
And notably, the seven-day average is 1,000 cases higher than New York City's at the peak of its outbreak in April, although antibody studies and death rates indicate that many cases there went unconfirmed because of a scarcity of tests.
Wisconsin's seven-day average is the country's fourth-highest, according to New York Times data, behind Illinois, Texas and California — states with much larger populations.
Since cases began surging in early September, hospitalizations and deaths have risen as a direct result. Because cases show no sign of slowing down, health officials expect the situation to worsen in coming weeks.
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While many know the danger of large, "superspreader" events, the virus is "extraordinarily contagious" in small gatherings and households as well, said Ryan Westergaard, chief medical officer at the DHS.
"It doesn't matter the location, it matters the proximity of people together," Willems Van Dijk said.
Westergaard cited a study that found people living with an infected person have a 1 in 2 chance of getting sick within a week.
And small gatherings with friends at home are becoming a place where the virus is spreading easily, health officials said. The state's large numbers of asymptomatic carriers can transmit the virus far without realizing it.
"There's really no safe gathering right now, unfortunately," Westergaard said.
Strained, near-capacity hospitals need more staff
Hospitals are facing dwindling bed space and critical staffing shortages as hundreds of health care workers are forced to quarantine at home after being exposed to the virus in the community.
Willems Van Dijk said the DHS is working to bring additional nurses and nursing assistants into the state and has asked the Federal Emergency Management Agency for help finding workers.
More crucially, she said, Wisconsin needs to stop the spread of the virus so hospitals have fewer sick patients.
“The most important way to address this is to prevent the patients from needing the care in the first place,” she said.
As of Thursday, only 112 intensive care beds of Wisconsin's nearly 1,500 ICU beds were available.
There were 2,077 people hospitalized with the virus, including 424 patients in intensive care units. Both numbers were slight declines from the day prior but still vastly higher than earlier in the pandemic.
Before Thursday, COVID-19 hospitalizations notched new record highs every day of November. Hospitalizations have jumped six-fold in the last two months.
The average positivity rate also hit a new high of 36.4% Thursday. The measure looks at first-time positive tests over the last seven days.
The average daily death toll over the last seven days was 46; two months ago, it was six.
This story will be updated.
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