The numbers of local and area COVID-19 patients is mirroring national upward trends as outbreaks in the Midwest and Northeast are contributing to the rising numbers.

The positivity rate of COVID-19 tests processed at the Aspirus Reference Lab increased for the third straight week. Last week’s 17.6% is the highest since January 2021, officials said.

“Typically, the higher the case number, the higher that prevalence or positivity rate translates to more patients requiring hospitalization,” said Susan Schneider, MD, Aspirus system senior system physician executive of primary care. “And we really are seeing those numbers especially with this latest Delta variant. There seems to be a higher transmission rate, younger, healthier people are requiring hospitalization because they are developing sever COVID.”

Aspirus had 106 patients hospitalized for COVID-19 throughout its system on Nov. 17. Of these, 76% are not fully vaccinated and 29 require ICU-level care.

“I really think there’s a disconnect with what’s happening in the perception out in the community versus what’s happening within our health system as well as actually the rest of the health systems across the state,” Schneider said. “This pandemic has been going on for a long time and people are tired of it and really want to get back to normal life, but that’s not really what we’re seeing in the health care system.”

As of Nov. 19, the Langlade County Health Department reported nine people hospitalized. There were also 28 new cases since its report two days earlier, along with 129 cases in isolation. The county has reported 59 deaths to date.

The county’s burden of illness in the previous two weeks was 925.3 per 100,000, a very high case activity rate. The state rate was 767.7 per 100,000.

Wisconsin’s vaccination rate—at least one dose—is 58.6%. Langlade County has crossed the halfway threshold with a 50.6% vaccination rate.

“We’re also seeing the majority of patients hospitalized are unvaccinated,” Schneider said. “Roughly 80% of those hospitalized are with severe COVID symptoms.”

The colder weather is here, and people soon will head out for the holiday travel season. Schneider said more indoor gatherings can lead to more cases when some of those who gather are unvaccinated.

“Last year at this time, most people were still masking,” she said. “This year, I think it’s going to be a completely different story with COVID and influenza.”

The Delta variant also causes more infections and spreads faster than earlier forms of the virus that cause COVID-19. It is also suspected to cause more severe illness than previous strains in unvaccinated people according to the CDC.

“I think the simplest, the safest and the most effective thing to do is get vaccinated,” Schneider said. “The vaccines are safe. They’re very effective. They prevent you from getting sick and for those people who still do get sick after vaccination, they’re less likely to develop severe COVID symptoms which could require hospitalization or even end up in death.”

Data from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) show significantly higher rates of infection, hospitalization and death among individuals who are not fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

These rates in September 2021 were five times higher for infection, nine times higher for hospitalization and 19 times higher for death.

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