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Health leader calls Wisconsin's COVID-19 situation a 'nightmare scenario'

Wisconsin is reporting record numbers of cases, hospitalizations and deaths.
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“It’s a nightmare scenario, frankly, that this could get quite a bit worse in the next several weeks or months before it gets better." 

That is the reaction during a press call Tuesday from Dr. Ryan Westergaard, a medical officer with the Wisconsin Department of Health, as he discussed the state's rapidly worsening COVID-19 situation, according to the Wisconsin State Journal. 

The health department on Tuesday reported 5,262 new cases of COVID-19 and 64 deaths, both single-day records for Wisconsin. The more-than-5,000 new cases came from approximately 16,500 people being tested, creating a daily test positivity rate of 31.8%. 

The explosion of cases has led to a strained hospital system. As of Tuesday, there were 1,385 people with COVID-19 hospitalized in Wisconsin, including 339 in an ICU. Eighty-five percent of the state's hospital beds are filled, leaving just over 1,600 still available. 

According to the Wisconsin State Journal, the alternate care site opened at the state fairgrounds in suburban Milwaukee is now treating five patients with COVID-19. As the situation worsens, health experts in Minnesota also fear what could happen next.

"This is no longer a slow-motion disaster," said Gregory Poland, director of the vaccine research group at Mayo Clinic, in an interview with the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. "This is a disaster in warp speed. And it's maddening to me as a physician because a whole lot of people have died and are dying."

Meanwhile, across the Mississippi River in Minnesota, cases, hospitalizations and deaths are all rising again. On Tuesday, the state reported 658 people with COVID-19 hospitalized, which marks a new high for the state. 

Minnesota saw 22% case growth from mid-August to mid-September, and then case growth exploded by 83% from mid-September to mid-October. All the while, the test positivity rate is rising, indicating that dramatic rises in cases are the result of more virus and community transmission rather than being a direct result of increased testing. 

Unlike the Minnesota Department of Health, Wisconsin's health department provides public transparency of the 7-day rolling average of both the test positivity rate based on the number of people tested and for the number of tests completed. People are often tested multiple times, so the more accurate positivity rate is based on the number of people that are tested.

  • Test positivity rate based on people tested: 25.7%
  • Test positivity rate based on total tests: 12.9%

Either way you look at it, Wisconsin's positivity rate far exceeds the World Health Organization's threshold of 5% to control the spread of the virus. 

Minnesota's test positivity rate based on the total number of tests is currently 6.86%, according to Johns Hopkins University. But because Minnesota doesn't provide the percent positive rate from the number of people tested, it's unclear what it is. 

Doing our own math, there have been 12,023 new cases of COVID-19 in Minnesota over the past seven days (Oct. 21-27), and those came from 91,739 people being tested. That gives Minnesota a test positivity rate based on the number of people tested of 13.1%, which would rank 11th-worst in the country according to the list from Johns Hopkins University

Gov. Tim Walz on Monday warned Minnesotans that Wisconsin's plight could be Minnesota's not-too-distant future. 

"That is the crystal ball of our future. We are not fortunetellers here, it's science, it's numbers," Walz said. "I think people need to wrap their mind around how bad it's gotten in some places and how bad it's getting." 

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