But it’s not all good news—COVID cases are rising again and Gov. Evers cautions “this pandemic is not over.”
All Wisconsinites age 16 and older will be eligible to get a COVID-19 vaccine on April 5, Gov. Tony Evers and the Department of Health Services (DHS) announced Tuesday afternoon.
The announcement marks the final milestone in vaccination phases for the state, and health officials will now look to get Wisconsin to herd immunity, which will come when about 80% of the population has either received a vaccine or recovered from COVID-19.
“We’re confident in our supply, we’re confident in our vaccine providers, and we are confident in Wisconsinites,” Evers said in a call with reporters shortly after the announcement.
While the final vaccine group means everyone will be eligible, Deputy DHS Secretary Julie Willems Van Dijk said she does not expect Wisconsin will achieve herd immunity any sooner than the end of June, her most recent projection. She said that projection was made on the basis of expected vaccine supply, not eligibility.
“Based on the information the federal government has given us, that would still be about the time that we would anticipate—sometime in June—that there would be adequate vaccine supply in the state to have achieved that level of herd immunity,” Willems Van Dijk said.
The vast majority of Wisconsinites were already eligible for the vaccine after the current phase, group 1C, included people with pre-existing conditions. One of those conditions was being overweight, a condition that affects about 70% of Wisconsin adults.
Evers and DHS had previously set a target date of May 1 for general population eligibility, in line with a deadline handed down to states by President Joe Biden. But as vaccine supply from the federal government gradually increased, the state’s health officials publicly stated they were considering whether to join the 30 other states that are opening general eligibility early.
Not all of the news is good on the pandemic front, however. Daily new COVID-19 cases in Wisconsin have been rising in the last few weeks. On March 8, the state’s seven-day average of daily new cases was 371, a level not seen since last June, but that figure now sits at 501, according to Tuesday’s data from DHS.
COVID related hospitalizations which peaked at nearly 2,300 in-patients in mid-November, had fallen below 300 by the end of February, according to the Wisconsin Hospital Association. Even as recently as March 21, the number of patients had fallen to 193. But by Tuesday (March 30), the number of patients had climbed to 250.
Nationally, according to a New York Times database, the US is averaging more than 63,000 new coronavirus infections per day, far off the December and January pace but still 15% higher than two weeks ago.
Willems Van Dijk said the state could be at the start of a surge, but cautioned it’s not easy to definitively say one is happening until it is over.
“Are there warning signs of a surge here in Wisconsin and across the nation? Yes,” Willems Van Dijk said. “A growing number of average cases per day is a warning sign.”
Evers also addressed the rising numbers, stressing “this pandemic is not over” and saying he is concerned about the three foreign virus variants now confirmed to be present in Wisconsin.
“Folks, don’t give up now,” Evers said. “Don’t let the COVID-19 fatigue get the best of you when we are this close to the finish line.”