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DHS urges people to be smart and take appropriate COVID precautions ahead of Memorial Day weekend

Wisconsin is averaging more than 1,800 cases of COVID-19 a day.

It’s nowhere near the surge we experience in December and January, but the risk of getting COVID is still higher than it was a month ago.

Counties within the state are a mix of low, medium, and high community levels.

“This is a good time to think about how we gather safely. Outdoors is safer than indoors. Wearing masks is you’re in a large group or particularly if you’re in one of the counties where there’s higher community levels. And making sure you’re up to date on vaccines and staying home when you’re sick a getting a test, even an at-home test before going and gathering can be smart,” said DHS Chief Medical Officer Dr. Ryan Westergaard.

Westergaard also says we’re at a much different point in the pandemic than we were in other surges, even if cases are high right now.

Health officials have much better surveillance data to monitor case load.

Vaccines are still very effective in preventing hospitalizations and deaths.

And anti-viral medication is readily available for people at high risk of severe infection.

“The further we get into the pandemic and acknowledging that we’re not going to make this virus go away. We have to live with it. We have to manage our risks,” said Westergaard.

Historically, the state experiences COVID surges after holiday weekends.

Infections After Vaccination

COVID vaccine and boosters are making a difference in reducing hospitalizations and deaths.

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services recently updated its illness after vaccination data.

It shows during the month of April COVID case rates were actually higher for people who had a booster shot on top of the regular series as compared to unvaccinated or people with only the regular series.

That may seem counter intuitive. This was Dr. Westergaard’s response to that data.

“People who go get a booster might also be more likely to go get tested if they develop symptoms. People who get a booster might change their behaviors, so they are exposed more. There are a number of explanations. I can’t tell you what one or more makes the data look the way they do,” said Westergaard.

Westergaard says more important is the data looking at hospitalizations and deaths after vaccination.

Even though people that are boosted had higher cases rates, their rates of hospitalizations were less than half that of unvaccinated people.

And risk of death is seven times greater for those that are unvaccinated.

“It is true that the effectiveness of vaccines at preventing any infection, even mild infection, that percent effectiveness has gone down. But the effectiveness for preventing death and severe disease has remained high. This has been seen in studies all over the world,” said Westergaard.

Booster doses are available to children as young as five years old.

Adults 50 and older and those who are immunocompromised are eligible for a second booster dose.

Katie Thoresen is WXPR's News Director/Vice President.
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