Damakant Jayshi

Even as cases continue to fall, for the sixth consecutive week children younger than 18 in Wisconsin led other age groups in weekly COVID-19 cases – while six counties joined two others in the ‘critically high’ category in just a matter of days, according to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.

Since Aug. 15, children younger than 18 have led other age groups in symptom onset or diagnosis of a confirmed case of COVID-19, DHS data show. In the week of Aug. 1, the number for those under 18 years was 1,370, with a rate of 108 per 100,000 people. During the same period people in the 25-34 led others in weekly case numbers, with 1,483 reported and a rate of 210 per 100,000. The following week, the number for both groups was the same, at 1,655, but the rate varied: 130 per 100,000 people for people below 18 and 210 for those in the 25-34 age group.

But last week children under 18 overtook the 25-34 group in case rates, too. According to DHS, in the week of Sept. 19, the number of onset or diagnosis of a confirmed case of COVID-19 under 18 years old was 1,126, a rate of 80 per 100,000 people. Corresponding figures during the period for 25-34 was 474, with the rate being 64 per 100,000.

One significant piece of good news for all age groups is that weekly case numbers have fallen sharply since the last week. For those under 18, it was 4,686 in the week of Sept. 21 and 4,237 in the week of Sept. 5.

But for Wisconsinites, another caution came from state health officials on Thursday.

In its daily update, DHS officials said eight counties are now seeing “Critically High” virus activity, up from just two last week. “That means they’re seeing rates of more than 1,000 cases per 100,000 residents,” DHS officials said, in a social media post.

Marathon County remains in “Very High” category – which means the rate is greater than 350, but less than or equal to 1,000. What is worrisome, officials say, is that the cases are “growing,” which the DHS explained to mean the percent change in cases is greater than or equal to 10%.

While renewing calls for people to get vaccinated, state health officials cited another grim statistic: the age-adjusted rate of COVID-19 deaths among those not fully vaccinated is 11 times higher than the rate among the fully vaccinated people. “We have a safe and effective tool that helps prevent deaths caused by COVID-19,” officials said on Wednesday. “The data is clear, COVID-19 vaccines are effective at preventing severe disease and death.”

Calls for vaccine and masking in indoor spaces have met with resistance, although latest polls show a majority of Americans favor vaccine and mask mandates. A Pew research showed that Americans who relied on former president Donald J. Trump for COVID-19 news were among the least likely to be vaccinated.

Of the 135,692 residents in Marathon County, 70,413 (51.9%) have had at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccines and 66,826 (49.2%) have completed the vaccination series. The state and national figures for at least one dose are 56.4% and 76.8%, respectively.

People on both sides of the issue have been fighting with school boards in Wisconsin and elsewhere about vaccine and mask orders, which vary from district to district and business to business. Scientists and health officials say masks have proven to be “one of the most effective strategies for keeping students learning in person safely during the pandemic.” For those who have children with disabilities, the challenge has increased exponentially because some parents have refused to adhere to recommendations from public health experts, often citing their right of personal choice or concern over perceived “risks” of vaccination and masking. This has had major implications as schools across the country have reopened for the academic year.

Damakant Jayshi is a reporter for Wausau Pilot & Review. He is also a corps member with Report for America, an initiative of GroundTruth Project that places journalists into local newsrooms. Reach him at damakant@wausaupilotandreview.com.