Damakant Jayshi

The adverse winter weather shows no sign of respite, at least not yet. However, there is an unmistakable ray of hope on the global pandemic front: cases, hospitalizations and deaths are all trending downward in the area.

If the downward trend continues, Marathon County could leave the existing ‘Critically High’ COVID-19 category and join at least 16 other counties in the ‘Very High’ group.

“Our current 7-day average for confirmed and probable cases is 77 per day, but we have continued to see a decrease in this daily average for the past few weeks,” Marathon County Health Department Spokesperson, Aaron Ruff, told Wausau Pilot & Review. “Using this data, we predict that we will indeed move to ‘Very High’ case activity next week.”

Ruff explained that ‘Very High’ is a case rate that is greater than 350, but less than or equal to 1,000. The range for the next lower category, ‘High’, is greater than 100 but less than or equal to 350, he added.

In the last 2-week period of measurement of cases, between Jan. 26 and Feb. 2022, Marathon County had a case burden of 1,342.3 cases per 100,000. 

On Thursday, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) confirmed the decreasing number of cases.

“Today’s COVID-19 update shows 16 counties have moved from critically high to very high category – from rates of 1,000+ cases per 100,000 residents to 350+ per 100,000,” the DHS said in its daily briefing.

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Until Feb. 9, all 72 counties in the state were in ‘Critically High’ group.

What many experts see as a true barometer of the pandemic, hospitalizations, is also trending downward in the state.

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In order to reduce the cases, hospitalizations and deaths, Ruff said, the health department continues urge residents to “get vaccinated and boosted if you are eligible. Wear a mask in public indoor spaces. Follow testing, isolation, and quarantine guidance.”

Both DHS and Marathon County Health Department urge people to continue wearing masks in indoor settings.

A number of states have begun to end or announced to soon end mask mandates or COVID-19 restrictions. But the disabled and immunocompromised fear the consequences of lifting mask mandates.

Additionally, families with vulnerable children and those still not eligible for vaccines were already worried that indoor masking is not required in Wausau and left optional in area school districts. Others have warned of the consequences of lifting the mask mandates in school during winter when outdoor activities are limited.

And the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, has said it was still too early to lift mask mandates in schools and other public places.

Aspirus to resume postponed non-Covid procedures

Aspirus Health System said that their hospitals have continued to see an “encouraging trend” regarding COVID-19.

In a statement issued on Wednesday, Aspirus officials said there are 80 COVID-positive patients across its 17 facilities – the fewest since Sept. 23, 2021. That is a “considerable decrease” from January when Aspirus’ average COVID daily census was 125. 

Of those hospitalized, in ICU or on ventilators are still overwhelmingly patients who have not been vaccinated. The data also clearly show the power of the COVID-19 booster shots.

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“With these trends of decreased cases and hospitalizations, we are getting a little bit of a reprieve from this two-year-long pandemic,” said Jenny Redman-Schell, Aspirus Senior Vice President and President of the Aspirus Medical Group.

Aspirus Health added that “these positive trends are allowing Aspirus to resume procedures that had been postponed during the busiest weeks of the surge,” when they had to redirect resources to care for COVID-19 patients.

“This is very important because we want to make sure that patients get the care that they need,” Redman-Schell said. “Even if you need a total hip or total knee replacement it’s very important because you could be living with pain or decreased mobility and you want to get that case completed and start on the road to rehab.”

Aspirus Health has continued adhering to mitigation measures.

“It is still important for the community to follow public health guidance and get vaccinated and boosted,” officials said.