Health Officials Optimistic About Declining COVID Numbers, but Remain Cautious

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By Jonathon Sadowski

February 3, 2022

All 72 counties still have critically high levels of virus activity, and the National Guard is helping at 17 nursing facilities.

State health officials said Thursday they are optimistic that the number of new COVID-19 cases is falling rapidly, but they still urged caution as the virus continues to have extremely high levels of spread across the state.

“We’re optimistic over the next several weeks that we’ll see cases continue to decline as the Omicron surge subsides,” said Dr. Ryan Westergaard, the top epidemiologist with the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS), during a call with reporters.

Underscoring the rosy outlook is a seven-day average of 5,162 daily new cases, down from a Jan. 19 peak of 18,858, according to DHS data

But at the same time, virus activity remains at “critically high” levels in all 72 counties, health facilities continue to struggle to meet demand, and the Wisconsin State Hygiene Lab has detected the presence of the new “stealth Omicron” variant that appears to be even more contagious than Omicron, according to preliminary research in Denmark

“No one really knows” how the so-called “stealth variant” will affect the pandemic’s trajectory, Westergaard said, but health officials do not expect it to cause much of an issue. There is no evidence to suggest it causes more severe illness than the base Omicron variant, and United Kingdom health officials found vaccines remain highly effective.

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Seventeen skilled nursing facilities around the state, from Racine to New London to Weyauwega, have a total of 117 Wisconsin National Guard members helping to make up for staffing shortfalls, said deputy DHS Secretary Deb Standridge.

“It takes a collaborative effort on all sides to help everyone move forward,” Standridge said, going on to encourage people to get vaccinated against the virus.

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