by Ian Johanson
for The Beacon
As the recently discovered Omicron variant has spurred concerns globally about what might be coming next with COVID, the previous Delta variant pushed Sheboygan County once again to the “critically high” COVID-19 disease activity level, before backing down slightly to the upper range of the “Very high” level as of the most recent update, as measured by the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS).
County hospitalizations have headed higher as well, but despite this, fortunately the frequency of deaths due to COVID is considerably lower than last year at this time.
19 Wisconsin counties were rated at the “critically high” level as of Dec. 8, along with 52 rated “very high.” The state began November with just 4 counties at the critically high level, the highest of five DHS disease activity ratings.
The critically high rating is reached when there are more than 1,000 confirmed and probable cases per 100,000 residents in the past two weeks. Sheboygan county is currently averaging 57 confirmed cases per day over the past 14 days, as of Friday Dec. 10. The average confirmed daily cases this time last year was 80, with the peak of 168 cases per day occurring on Nov. 22, 2020.
The county remains at the “High” transmission level as measured by the Centers for Disease Control, the highest of four levels, and which the Sheboygan County Division of Health Services uses for its updates. The CDC guidance is for everyone in areas with substantial and high transmission, including fully vaccinated individuals, to wear a mask in public indoor settings.
The number of people currently hospitalized in the county’s two hospitals has approached the highs reached in 2020, with 33 patients in the hospital for COVID on Tuesday Dec. 7. Only eight days in 2020 recorded 33 or more patients hospitalized at the same time, with the peak of 37 hit on Nov. 2, 2020. There were 91 total hospitalizations this November, up from 83 in November of last year.
95% of all hospital beds in the Southeast region were in use as of Dec. 8, with 97% of ICU beds in use. 44% of all hospitals in the region were at their overall peak capacity.
Despite the increase in hospital stays, COVID deaths are much less frequent in the county, with 9 deaths reported in November of this year versus 25 in November of 2020. The worst month of the pandemic so far was December of 2020, with 39 deaths reported. Of the current 176 total deaths, 87 have been age 80 and above; 43 age 70-79; 27 age 60-69; 8 age 50-59; 7 age 40-49; 3 age 30-39; none age 20-29; 1 age 10-19; and none age 0-9 years.
The COVID vaccines remain the best protection against hospitalization or death, but the number of county residents getting vaccinated has slowed to a crawl. There were just 466 doses administered for the week ending Nov. 27, the lowest recorded number other than the first two weeks vaccines were available, in December of 2020. Just 58.1% of the county’s population has received at least one dose.
The vaccines are now available for children age 5 and older. Everyone age 16 and older is recommended to receive a booster dose for the best protection against COVID-19 by the DHS. The approval for 16 and 17 year olds came through Friday. At this time, the Pfizer vaccine booster dose is the only one recommended for 16- and 17-year-olds. The booster is administered when individuals are 6 months after their initial Pfizer or Moderna series or 2 months after their initial J&J vaccine. To find a vaccine appointment, visit vaccines.gov.
As for the variants, since July of this year, the Delta variant has been almost exclusively the variant type detected in Wisconsin.
The first detected case of the Omicron variant in Wisconsin was announced Dec. 4.