Last week Sawyer County was ranked by the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) as the highest in the state, by county, for COVID-19 positive cases, based on “case burden” and “trajectory.”
On Thursday, Nov. 11, DHS’s noted Sawyer County’s case burden at 1,448.5 per 100,000, and it included Sawyer among eight counties, including six in the northwest area of the state, that were classified above “high” for “disease activity level” — and even “very high” to “critically high.”
Sawyer County Public Health tracks COVID cases using a seven-day average from the Harvard Global Health Survey (HGHS). It is based on “confirmed” and “probable cases” of COVID, and the survey creates a reference per 100,000 that is lower than the system used by DHS.
On Thursday, Nov. 11, when DHS noted the 1,448.5 per 100,000, HGHS recorded the county at 146.7, the highest ever recorded in the county using this measurement. The previous HGHS high was on Nov. 21, 2020, at 135.5 per 100,000.
And as of Monday, Nov. 15, the HGHS seven-day average for Sawyer County had receded to 119.1.
For the last four weeks in Sawyer County, based on a Monday-to-Monday, seven-day comparisons, the number of new COVID cases has increased from 77 on Oct. 27 to 86 on Nov. 1 to 115 on Nov. 8 to 148 on Nov. 15. The numbers reveal over the last four weeks that new cases, week-to-week, have increased steadily — nearly doubling from 77 recorded on Oct. 27 to 148 on Nov. 15.
Also during this period, there have been four new deaths in the county and a dozen hospitalizations.
Public Health Officer Julia Lyons was hoping that by now the county’s new case count would have plateaued and begun to decline, but that has not materialized. She has no prediction when it will.
“When you start to get this much community spread, it becomes a cycle that’s hard to break,” she said, “And, really, we’re either going to get to the point that there’s just not very many people left to infect, because people have either are vaccinated, or they have acquired immunity. Or people are going to start backing off from socialization, which will also help reduce the numbers, but I’m not sure people are ready to back off from socializing.”
And next week is Thanksgiving, when people gather with their families in close quarters, providing an opportune situation for community transfer of the coronavirus.
“So our goal was to just catch as many people as possible early on in their illness to really have them then isolate away from others and not spread it any further,” she said. “So that’s really where we’re at in vaccinations. We’re just plugging away in the health care community and public health on those two things.”
The level of vaccination in the county, based on a population of 16,558 — even though the 2020 Census has the county at over 18,000 — reveals 53.9% of all residents have received at least one dose of a vaccine and 51.2% have received the full dosage.
Recently the Pfizer vaccine was approved for those ages 5-11, and ongoing vaccinations will slowly increase the overall rate of vaccination for the county. However, there is no data yet on how many of those 5-11 have been vaccinated. Currently, 43.1% of those ages 12-15 and 50.3% of those ages 16-17 have received at least one dose of a vaccine.
It’s timely that youth are being vaccinated because the highest rate of new cases in September and October in the county were for those in the 10 to 19 age group.
The Delta strain of the coronavirus appears to have targeted young people more, but typically they have fewer and less extreme symptoms than older people, especially those over age 60. The DHS also continues to track “breakthrough” cases, those who have been vaccinated but still get COVID.
People are getting COVID who had been vaccinated, but for the most part, the illness is much less severe, with a much lower rate of hospitalization, Lyons said. “If you are exposed to enough of the virus, you can get COVID. You just aren’t getting as sick as someone who hasn’t been vaccinated.”
The DHS data available Tuesday, Nov. 16, shows per 100,000 population of those who are vaccinated that 456.4 typically catch COVID, resulting in 12.2 hospitalizations and 1.8 deaths. For the unvaccinated per 100,000, however, the number of positives rises to 2,235 with 132 hospitalizations and 27.3 deaths.
Sawyer County Public Health now has all three vaccines available for free, including boosters for those who qualify.
Sawyer County Public Health is providing COVID-19 testing and vaccination from a new site located at 16092 Highway 63 on the south end of Hayward.
Those wanting a COVID test or a Pfizer or a Moderna or a Johnson & Johnson vaccine should call (715) 634-4806 for an appointment. For safety concerns, testing will be conducted curbside but vaccinations will be given inside the building.
Information on where to obtain a free vaccine is available by calling Sawyer County Public Health at (715) 634-4806 or going online at sawyer-county-covid-19-response-sawyergis.hub.arcgis.com/.