Not out of the woods: Wisconsin officials caution spring travel | Covid-19

EAU CLAIRE — Though far fewer Eau Claire County residents are currently testing positive for COVID-19 compared to four months ago, state and local health officials are warning that another surge this spring is possible.

“This isn’t the time to throw all precaution out the window,” said Lieske Giese, director of the Eau Claire City-County Health Department, at a Thursday news conference. “Yes, we’re getting people vaccinated, but we’re at a place where we don’t have herd immunity. We need to be cautious.”

The county’s cases remain low, though outbreaks are happening in neighboring states.

An average of six Eau Claire County residents have tested positive for COVID-19 per day for the last week, below the county’s benchmark of 10 or fewer cases per day to keep public health resources from becoming strained.

“Our goal continues to be to keep that number as low as possible,” Giese said Thursday. “ … The last couple of days our case numbers have been up. we’re watching that very carefully, especially given the news from Minnesota and surrounding states that they’re seeing increasing cases again, and also with the news that the new variant is rising.”

Both Minnesota and Michigan are beginning to see daily COVID-19 cases inch up again.

Daily cases in Wisconsin appear to be increasing slightly. The state’s lowest recent weekly average was 363 cases per week in early March. As of Friday, the state’s weekly average was 465 cases per week.

Wisconsin health officials on Thursday urged people not to travel if they’re unvaccinated, and noted that even vaccinated or low-risk people can contract COVID-19 and pass it on to others.

“… We want to caution travel because we don’t want to bring variants into Wisconsin that could spread to other folks when you come back, who are still susceptible,” said Julie Willems Van Dijk, deputy secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.

Three variants of SARS-CoV-2 have been found in Wisconsin.

Seventy-eight Wisconsin residents have tested positive for the strain of the virus that originated in England. The first case in Wisconsin was an Eau Claire County resident who tested positive for the virus in December after traveling internationally. (In total, at least three Eau Claire County residents have tested positive for the variant that originated in England, which has been dubbed B.1.1.7.)

The B.1.1.7 variant is believed to spread more easily than the original strain of the virus, and it might be associated with an increased risk of death, according to the DHS.

Wisconsin also has found two cases of a new variant first discovered in South Africa in October, and one case of a variant that may have originated in Brazil.

Viruses often mutate or change as they reproduce; many of these mutations are harmless, but some have represented increased illness or transmissibility.

“We don’t want to bring more variants into Wisconsin, and we don’t want to take five steps back just when we’re at the cusp of things getting a lot better,” Van Dijk said. “If we can give ourselves a little patience, keep delivering 300,000 vaccines a week over the next eight to 10 weeks, we’ll be much farther ahead than where we are right now.”

Statewide, 28% of people have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and 16% are fully vaccinated.

The state has said it aims to make vaccines available to all residents 16 and older on May 1.

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