Why Wisconsin has become a COVID-19 hotspot within a month

Lexi Langendorf, News Writer

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) confirmed that COVID-19 cases in Wisconsin have risen from around 1,000 cases per day in early September to a record 3,000 cases per day the first few days of October.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Wisconsin now ranks among the top states in new cases per capita and is reporting more new cases than all but three large states: California, Texas and Florida.

Ajay Sethi, an epidemiology professor at UW-Madison, said that three of the four metro areas in the United States with the most cases per capita were in northeast Wisconsin.

“The surges are in Green Bay, in northeastern Wisconsin, and there’s a little evidence of an uptick in Milwaukee,” Sethi said.

The Oshkosh-Neenah area., with a population of 171,907, had 2,013 new cases in the last two weeks, accounting for 83.6 average daily cases per 100,000 people.

Wisconsin is currently in the midst of an outbreak, but many of the state’s residents are questioning why.
Health experts have attributed the spike to general fatigue over wearing masks and socially distancing in facilities such as nursing homes, prisons, meatpacking plants and reopening schools and university campuses; places that make up a large proportion of cases.

However, other individuals have different theories as to what caused the sudden surge in case numbers.
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot specifically blamed Republican lawmakers and the Republican-dominated Wisconsin Supreme Court for blocking Gov. Tony Evers’ efforts to stop the spread of the virus.

“The governor rightfully put in place a number of different measures that were designed to keep people safe. A highly politicized move by the Republican members of that State Assembly took the case up to a Republican-stacked Supreme Court that struck down everything the governor was trying to do to keep that state safe,” Lightfoot said.
“And what have we seen? Chaos. Wisconsin is what happens when you politicize public health.”

According to the Wisconsin DHS, 24% of cases confirmed as of Tuesday are those of 20-29 year-olds.
This particular statistic and the timely opening of college campuses have led many individuals to believe that students are the culprit.

At UW-Madison, within only a week of classes starting, over 1,000 students tested positive, resulting in the university shutting down all in-person instruction.

Not only this, but many students have continued to attend parties, gatherings and bars, which remain open for business.

According to a study by the Wisconsin Medical Society, 65% of freshmen at UW-Madison represent themselves as drinkers, compared to 82% of sophomores and 84% of juniors.

With that, Wisconsin has the same number of bars as California despite a population that’s 85% smaller.
Dr. Thomas Tsai, a professor at Harvard University’s T. H. Chan School of Public Health, explained why bars may correlate with the recent COVID-19 spike.

“It’s really hard to wear a mask in a bar. It’s hard to stay six feet apart,” Tsai said. “It’s hard to constantly wash your hands and not touch surfaces other people have touched.”

Oshkosh Mayor Lori Palmeri said she favored creating some new rules for bars and restaurants, but said the City Council was unlikely to agree on any measures that could slow the virus’s spread.

“I’m honestly not sure that anything we do right now will make a difference,” Palmeri said. “It’s too late.”
Doug Gieryn, Health Officer of Winnebago County, said he had seen cases tied to cookouts, club sports and leagues, weddings and birthday parties.

“I truly feel like people are just carrying on as usual,” Gieryn said. “It’s an acceptance that has settled in.”
Evers has extended a mask mandate until November and warned state residents of the severity of the situation.
“We are nine months into this pandemic,” Evers said. “It’s not slowing down. It’s picking up speed. We have got to put the brakes on this pandemic.”