Laboratory technicians Justin Lange, left, and Akanksh Shetty observe social distancing while creating viral transport media at the University of Illinois. The fluid is used to preserve patient test samples for COVID-19. Courtesy of Ann Hyoung Sook/University of Illinois

By Shereen Siewert

Health officials in Marathon County are reporting six additional resident deaths – five confirmed and one probable – due to COVID-19, though the number of new cases has continued a downward trend.

The county reached a new milestone, as more than 10,000 people have so far been infected with COVID-19, according to the Marathon County Health Department. That means one in 13 Marathon County residents have tested positive to date.

In the north central region, which includes Marathon, Portage, Lincoln, Langlade, Oneida, Vilas, Wood, Clark, Taylor, Oneida, Price, Forest and Iron Counties, hospitals continue to report a heavy strain on staff and capacity. Just 11 percent of staffed beds are immediately available in the region as of Dec. 3, according to the Department of Health Services. The north central region is reporting 159 inpatients being treated for COVID-19, 31 of which are in intensive care units.

Statewide, COVID numbers have trended downward in recent days. Despite cautious optimism among many residents, health officials say the trend might not last because fewer testing sites were open over the holiday weekend. Health authorities had warned that the numbers could fluctuate strongly before and after Thanksgiving, as they often do around holidays and weekends. Because of reporting delays, the figures often drop, then rise sharply days later as state and local health agencies catch up with the backlog.

White House Coronavirus Task Force coordinator Deborah Birx on Sunday said young people who went home for the holiday and gathered in groups should be tested five to 10 days afterward.

States, including Wisconsin, drafted plans Thursday for who will go to the front of the line when the first doses of COVID-19 vaccine become available later this month, as U.S. deaths from the outbreak eclipsed 3,100 in a single day, obliterating the record set last spring.

With initial supplies of the vaccine certain to be limited, governors and other state officials are weighing both health and economic concerns in deciding the order in which the shots will be dispensed.

State officials face a Friday deadline to submit requests for doses of the Pfizer vaccine and specify where they should be shipped, and many appear to be heeding nonbinding guidelines adopted this week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to put health care workers and nursing home patients first.

But they’re also facing a multitude of decisions about other categories of residents.

The U.S. recorded a record 3,157 deaths on Wednesday alone, according to the tally kept by Johns Hopkins University. That’s more than the number of people killed on 9/11, and shattered the old mark of 2,603, set on April 15, when the New York metropolitan area was the epicenter of the U.S. outbreak.

The number of Americans in the hospital with the coronavirus likewise hit an all-time high Wednesday at more than 100,000, according to the COVID Tracking Project. The figure has more than doubled over the past month. And new cases per day have begun topping 200,000, by Johns Hopkins’ count.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.