By Shereen Siewert

New figures released Thursday by the Wisconsin Department of Health Services shows unvaccinated people in July who contracted COVID died at a rate 10 times higher than people who contracted COVID after being vaccinated.

The new data, posted on the DHS website Thursday, also show unvaccinated people are nearly four times more likely to be hospitalized than people who contract the virus after being vaccinated.

The month-by-month data, dating back to February, shows a similar story. Just over 53% of Wisconsin residents have received at least one dose of the vaccine, health officials said. The seven-day average of positive cases was at 6.7% Wednesday as cases returned to levels not seen in since February in Wisconsin.

Courtesy of the Wisconsin Department of Health

DHS Secretary-designee Karen Timberlake said the increase in Wisconsin cases right now is being largely driven by the Delta variant, while the overwhelming majority of people who are contracting COVID have not been fully vaccinated.

With the original strain of COVID-19, an infected person was likely to infect two other people, who were then likely to infect two additional people for a total of 6 cases from one infection, Timberlake said.

“With the Delta variant, an infected person is likely to infect about five people, who are then likely to infect 25 people for a total of 30 cases from one infection,” she added.

DHS made two other data updates this week. The COVID-19 cases and deaths by county and census tract, municipality, school district, and zip code have been updated to align with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) case-rate definitions used to determine level of community transmission on the CDC COVID Data Tracker. Health officials say tthe alignment with CDC’s tracker is important for local decision makers to elect on layering COVID-19 prevention measures within the community based on levels of community transmission and vaccination coverage.

DHS has also updated the New confirmed COVID-19 cases by date confirmed, and 7-day average graph to include a date slider. The new function allows users to zoom in on a particular segment of the graph.

Transmission rates remain high in Marathon County, according to the latest map, which is updated daily.

CDC officials say fully vaccinated people with Delta variant breakthrough infections can spread the virus to others. However, vaccinated people appear to be infectious for a shorter period.

Herd immunity now unlikely, scientists say

One of the lead researchers for the AstraZeneca vaccine told British lawmakers that the ultimate goal of herd immunity may have been mythical all along, because health officials didn’t understand the nature of the variants that had not yet arrived. In the early days of the pandemic, researchers also did not know that vaccinated people could transmit the virus to others as well.

The concept of herd immunity relies on the theory that if enough people are vaccinated or have a level of protection, virus spread becomes more difficult. The concept is sometimes reachable, researchers said, pointing to the way in which mass vaccinations suppressed measles, tuberculosis and polio.

Scientists are increasingly concluding that the virus won’t ever go away completely, but with enough vaccinations will most likely become a manageable threat that will circulate for years to come, causing hospitalizations and deaths – but in smaller numbers.

The most recent polls show that about 30 percent of the population nationwide is still resistant to vaccination. Marc Lipsitch, an epidemiologist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, told the New York Times that getting to the 90 percent vaccination coverage goal is possible – but “not super likely.”

Meanwhile, infections and hospitalizations are rising throughout the state and country. Andrew Krauss, spokesman for Aspirus, told Wausau Pilot & Review that as of Wednesday the hospital had 18 patients in either the COVID ICU or COVID Medical Unit.