COVID reality

Vince Vitrano of WTMJ-TV in Milwaukee:

“I think we would not feel confident saying that on the 2-week anniversary we are attributing increases to the lifting of safer at home.”

Wisconsin Department of Health Services Secretary Designee Andrea Palm 5/27/2020

Palm said it. I was (virtually) there.

Let’s get into it.

DHS recorded a record number of new, confirmed cases of COVID-19 at 599 on Wednesday. A primary driver for that record number was that it is part of a record number of tests conducted, which for the first time topped 10,000 Wednesday. The percent of positive tests in the sample was 5.8%. That’s up from 3.6% the previous day, but it’s down.

It’s down from 8.3% on May 16th, just three days after the overturn of safer at home. It’s down from 6.3% on May 13th, the day the State Supreme Court overturned safer at home. It’s down from nearly 13% on May 1st, when we were still under safer at home. Thursday’s numbers were down to 512 new cases, and a still falling percentage at 4.8%

There is no upward trend reflected in this data in the percentage of positive tests since safer at home was overturned.

One qualifier that I’ve identified here before…. while the percentage is an apples to apples comparison… it’s like comparing a granny smith to a honey crisp. For weeks we were testing only very sick people. We have now expanded testing dramatically to include even those with no symptoms. Widening the parameters would naturally invite a lower percentage of positives to appear.

There is an uptick in hospitalizations. The number of people hospitalized across the State of Wisconsin was, at the time of this post, 408. That is starting to tick back down a bit from the day before, but the number hit a weeks-long high on May 26th at 422. You’d have to go back to April 14th to find a day with higher hospitalizations at 441, down from a peak April 9th of 446.

You can argue the hospitalization numbers are still relatively low given they’re for the entire state, and given dire predictions of hospitals being overrun. You can’t argue there isn’t an overall increasing trend from the first week of May. That is real.

So a mixed report on what the data is showing us in regard to spread of the disease… but no clear indication that the end of safer at home has, of yet, produced devastating effects on public health.

Secretary Designee Palm and the State’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Ryan Westergaard both comment in greater detail about this in their last DHS briefing. They comment at about 47 minutes in… and then again at about 52 minutes in to the link I provide here, if you’d like to listen to their comments in full context.

Another thing to take away. While stopping short of saying the lifting of safer at home definitively produced an upward trend in cases, they do both continue to urge caution and suggest the likelihood that more people have coronavirus now in Wisconsin than did a couple of weeks ago.

They also stress we’re now at greater risk of coming into contact with those people. Here’s Westergaard on that, “I think we really need to think, not in terms of did this cause the cases to go up, did this cause the cases to go up? But to undertand that it’s complex, and we have to do a large number of differnt things in order to respond to keep ourselves safer.”

Also Wednesday, Kenosha County health officials expressed alarm that seven recent COVID-19 positive cases in the County are people who work in bars and restaurants. Health officials will not publicly disclose the establishments involved. Perhaps contact tracing could produce some circumstantial evidence that will be able to tie future cases to that. We can watch for news there.

Word of caution, Dr. Westergaard also suggested even when there’s strong associative evidence in individual outbreaks, “It’s not ever going to be possible to attribute something like a trend, especially on one day, to any one thing.”

Dr. Westergaard’s commentary suggests, like with the election, it will be difficult to know even two to three weeks out… because safer at home was overturned… X happened. Nothing exists in a vacuum. Just like we cannot know how coronavirus would have spread through Wisconsin without the order in the first place, we cannot know how it would have continued to spread if it had been left in place. People divided on the wisdom of the decision hope to find evidence one way or another to back their opinions. That’s natural.

Most of the State is allowed to fully reopen, and now it is up to individual business owners how they plan to care for their employees and their customers. It will be up to us as individuals to let our judgement guide decisions about whether to eat out, whether to hang out, whether to go out. I wish you all good health whichever way you break.

One other thing: Professional Steve asked about municipal swimming pools …

… and got not much response.


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