MILWAUKEE - Wisconsin health officials urge people to get vaccinated against COVID-19 and to wear masks to help slow the spread as the highly contagious delta variant surges in the state.
The Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) reported 1,460 new confirmed COVID-19 cases on Thursday, Aug. 12. The seven-day average sits at 1,104 new cases and two new deaths per day from COVID-19.
State health officials are concerned by the trends.
"What we’re seeing happen in Florida could happen here," said Julie Willems Van Dijk, DHS deputy secretary.
On Thursday, there were more than 560 people hospitalized with COVID-19 complications, more than 160 of them in intensive care units, according to the Wisconsin Hospital Association.
While cases, hospitalizations and deaths are not near the peaks seen the preceding fall and winter, health officials warn of where trends are headed.
"Wisconsin has a similar vaccination rate to Florida, and COVID-19 cases are reaching an all-time high, and their health care systems are overwhelmed," Willems Van Dijk said. "We find ourselves in a situation that we hoped was in the past, we risk our hospital systems being overwhelmed again."
Fifty-three percent of Wisconsin residents have received at least one vaccine dose, with 49.9% have completed a two-dose series.
Willems Van Dijk said the state needs to reach an 80% community vaccination rate for widespread protection from serious illness, hospitalization and death. Until then, officials urge masking as more spread of the delta variant means more chances for the virus to mutate.
"We're moving in the right direction, but we're also not moving fast enough," said Willems Van Dijk. "We need more Wisconsinites to choose to get vaccinated and protect themselves, and families and neighbors who are not yet eligible for the vaccine, such as our children."
Adults and children ages 12 and up are eligible for vaccines. As kids are set to return to school, the DHS said masking is vitally important to keep younger children safe from contracting and spreading the disease.
This week, UW Health announced it would be part of a Moderna clinical study of vaccines in children from six months to 11 years old.
State health officials said what is particularly concerning is the increase in hospitalization of children for out-of-season respiratory disease. They stress the urgency to use masking to prevent COVID-19 infections in school settings, which could lead to hospitalization and an increased burden on pediatric resources to treat them.