Masked at the farmers market

Mai Xiong, left, hands fresh vegetables to a customer Friday, Sept. 11, 2020, at Cameron Park Farmers Market in La Crosse.

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services reported more than 5,000 new cases of COVID-19 in the state for the second time this week.

DHS reported 5,096 new cases of the disease Friday, bringing the average for the past seven days to 4,231 daily cases. One week ago, the average was 3,470 daily cases. One month ago it was 2,334. Two months ago it was 696.

There were 24 new deaths from COVID-19 reported Friday. On Friday, 13,596 tested negative.

During a press briefing Friday, DHS Chief Medical Officer Dr. Ryan Westergaard said the continued surge in new cases is not surprising given the number of people who are not wearing masks and social distancing in the state.

"Given what we know about how many people have been infected already from some antibody surveys, the worst case scenario is that it's really just getting started," Westergaard said. "It’s probably fewer than 10 percent of Wisconsin residents have been infected, which means 90 percent are still unexposed and susceptible. So the expectation, if we don't do very aggressive things to slow the spread, is that this could continue and get worse."

Westergaard said people can change the current trajectory of the pandemic by following health precautions like wearing a mask, social distancing and avoiding all social gatherings.

Gov. Tony Evers called on people to forgo traditional Halloween celebrations this weekend and avoid parties or gatherings with people outside their immediate household.

"The choices you make every day could be the difference between preventing a hospitalization or even saving a life," Evers said. "In the spring, our efforts to stay home stayed lives, and we are in a far different and more dire situation now than we were then."

28.2 percent of people who got tested for COVID-19 over the past week were positive for the disease, according to DHS. That rate has been on the rise for weeks.

The positivity rate is often read by public health officials as a measure of overall testing levels. A high rate could indicate that testing in the state is limited, and skewed toward those already flagged as potentially having COVID-19. A lower rate could indicate testing is more widespread. Changes in the test positivity rate can also speak to COVID-19's spread, if the size and makeup of the testing pool stays consistent.

State officials announced Thursday the expansion of Wisconsin's community testing infrastructure. Beginning this month, 71 new community testing sites have opened across the state and will remain open through Dec. 10, when the National Guard will conclude its testing.

On Sept. 30, DHS also introduced an alternative positivity rate, one that measures the percentage of tests that are positive, instead of the percentage of people who get a positive result. The new metric takes into account people who have been tested multiple times. The seven-day average for that number is 14.5 percent.

According to DHS, there were 1,453 COVID-19 patients hospitalized as of Thursday. A total of 11,145 people have been hospitalized because of the disease, or 5.1 percent of all positive cases.

(Copyright © 2020 APG Media)

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