‘No time to slack off’
With COVID cases on the rise in all 50 states, health experts are concerned of a new wave of infections brought on by the Delta variant, which accounts for 70% of new infections in Wisconsin.
In Monroe County, COVID case numbers have been pretty steady, averaging 10 to 20 a week, a far cry from the 50 to 60 cases a day the health department was seeing from November through January, when county hit a one-day high of 93 cases.
Tiffany Giesler, Monroe County Health Department director/health officer, attributes the decline in cases to the protection provided by the vaccines. She said the cases she’s seeing now are in unvaccinated people.
There are four “breakthrough” cases being investigated in Monroe County. Those are cases where the individual has been vaccinated and has contracted COVID. Still, the vaccine appears to provide a level of protection in those cases.
“The individuals who have been vaccinated do have much milder cases than what appears to be happening with our unvaccinated population,” said Giesler.
And while vaccinations are the best protection against COVID, Giesler said there is a lot of reluctance among Monroe County residents to get the shot.
In Wisconsin, 48.9% of the population has been fully vaccinated. In Monroe County that number is 37.9%.
According to statistics from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, among its neighbors, Monroe County is on the lower end of vaccination rates. La Crosse County is at 57%, Trempealeau County is at 54%, Jackson and Juneau counties are at 40% and Vernon County is at 46%. Dane County leads the state with a vaccination rate of 67%.
Geisler said the health department is trying to make it convenient for people to get the shot, making it available at its facility in downtown Sparta for anybody who wants one. The department also has held educational sessions to give people the facts on the vaccine.
“We do have a large hesitation here,” she said.
The Delta variant, which is more transmissible than any of the other COVID strains, is wreaking havoc in states like Florida and California. Geisler points out that California just went back to masking indoors because of the high transmissibility of the Delta variant.
She said the more recent infections are causing hospitalizations among a younger population, those in their 30s and 40s.
“The vaccine does work and it’s the best prevention measure we have,” said Giesler, adding that it’s proven safe. She anticipates full FDA approval for the Pfizer vaccine by the end of the year and says Moderna is working toward full approval also. Those vaccines along with Johnson & Johnson’s are currently being administered under the FDA’s emergency use authorization.
“They go through the same trials that every vaccine does and they have to hit all of the same benchmarks that all vaccines do, so we do know they’re safe,” said Giesler.
Currently, there is no vaccine approved for those 12 and under. However, Pfizer and Moderna are in the final stages of clinical trials and expect to have a vaccine available for that population by year’s end.
Still, the Center of Disease Control and Department of Health Services are recommending mask use in school settings along with other mitigation measures – good hand hygiene, physical distancing, etc.
“If you can’t be vaccinated, those other mitigation strategies are important for helping control the spread,” said Giesler.
She also wants people to be aware that just because the spread of the virus has flattened out in this area, the pandemic isn’t over.
“It’s not a time for us to slack off,” she said. “It’s a time for us to stay vigilant and pay attention. We’re doing okay right now but we’re heading into fall and winter and coming back inside to do things.
“We need to take all the measures we can to help to decrease the risk, like the vaccination, which we know works. And those who can’t be vaccinated should practice other mitigation strategies.”
Anyone who would like to schedule a vaccine shot with the Monroe County Health Department should call (608) 269-8666.