MILWAUKEE — COVID-19 restrictions in Milwaukee may become stricter this week, after transmission and the percentage of positive tests increased last week.
The Milwaukee Health Department announced Friday that it would likely change its public health order from the less-restrictive Phase 6 to Phase 5 this week. Factors in the anticipated changed were a seven-day rate of COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people at 96 — showing “substantial transmission — and an increase in positive tests to 5% — showing “moderate transmission” — according to a press release from the health department.
A change to Phase 5 would reduce capacity limits for businesses and gatherings, but according to the news release, “many locations with approved safety plans will not be substantially affected by the move to Phase 5.”
“It seems counterintuitive. At a time when vaccinations are available and everyone is aware of safe practices, we should see COVID-19 infection rates declining. That is not the case,” said Commissioner Kirsten Johnson in the press release. “The presence of newer, easily transmitted COVID variants is one likely culprit; another factor is COVID fatigue. With the finish line in sight, we all need to take every reasonable precaution to limit the spread of the virus.”
As of Monday afternoon, there were a total of 304 people hospitalized in Wisconsin due to COVID-19. At the peak of the pandemic in mid-November, that number was 2,277. The lowest daily hospitalization number since the peak, was 193 on March 21.
Variants of COVID-19, including the one originating in the United Kingdom that is associated with increased transmission, are present in Milwaukee.
As of last week, all Wisconsin residents 16 and older were eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine. Still, the Wisconsin Center in Milwaukee has been taking all comers (including walk-ins) to be vaccinated since there are reportedly thousands of available appointments since not enough people are signing up to be vaccinated to fulfill the supply of vaccines available. Walk-ins were accepted at Festival Hall in Racine last week too since not all appointments were filled.
Like the City of Milwaukee, the City of Racine has slowly been easing COVID restrictions.
The City of Racine Public Health Department announced on March 19 it was loosening restrictions.
Restaurants, places of worship, bars, museums and other places where people congregate would be allowed to operate at 75% of their maximum capacity, starting March 22, as long as they could maintain the standard social distance of 6 feet.
Since Jan. 18, the maximum capacity at most city facilities had been 50%. That followed a strict 25% limit, in place from Nov. 27 to Jan. 18.
Business owners were outspoken in their criticism of the measures, calling the measures “traffic killers.” However, those in public health responded by noting the limits were necessary.
Mass gatherings that require city approval, including weddings and concerts, are again allowed with a limit of 75% of total building capacity, so long as no more than 200 people gather.
By March 29, the county’s increase in COVID cases was such it found itself once again in high risk category.
A notice from Racine County said that the rising rates are “an important reminder for the public to continue following public-health guidelines to help avoid an increase in cases.”
Health leaders nationwide have raised concerns that as vaccines rollout, those who haven’t been vaccinated will become more willing to gather, leading to late outbreaks of COVID-19.
As of last week, the U.S. has confirmed more than 30 million COVID-19 cases with nearly 550,000 deaths linked to the novel coronavirus and its variants.