As COVID-19 cases continue to surge, DHS launches new features on its COVID-19 data pages

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) added a “critically high” category to the Disease Activity Dashboard to give Wisconsinites a better picture of the impact of COVID-19 in our state amidst a surge in activity. This new category indicates how alarming COVID-19 activity is in counties and regions throughout Wisconsin. The “critically high” category is nearly three times higher than “very high.” Both the state and 65 counties are at this “critically high” level today.

New testing data, now available at the county level, also provides further insights about the COVID-19 infections in communities. Looking at percent positive by test, which counts people each time they are tested, is an important way to understand how prevalent the COVID-19 virus is in each jurisdiction (or county). The updated dashboard also includes the number of daily tests administered by region and county, as well as the seven-day average tests administered and test positivity.

“Far too many of our communities are in a dire situation,” said DHS Deputy Secretary Julie Willems Van Dijk. “To put these new data in perspective, Wisconsin is now seeing more average cases per day than New York City did at the peak of its surge last spring. Because of these critically high levels of disease, public health can no longer adequately contact trace, hospital beds are filled with patients with COVID-19, and too many Wisconsin families are losing loved ones to this virus. By helping people see the critically high level of disease in their counties and regions, we hope these data enhancements will help people make important decisions to stay home in order to stop the spread of COVID-19.”

Governor Evers’ new Executive Order 94 outlines important steps that each Wisconsinite can take to protect their family, friends and neighbors, including wearing a mask and maintaining six feet of distance from others when they have to leave their homes. Now is the time to identify counties where the case activity rate exceeds the existing “very high” category. The addition of the “critically high” category, representing greater than 1,000 cases per 100,000 residents, provides vital information to Wisconsinites.

Also critical to our understanding of the burden of COVID-19 across the state are probable cases and probable deaths. An added feature is available for daily cases and deaths, as well as cumulative cases and deaths on the County Data page. With the growing use of antigen tests, especially in group and outbreak settings, there will likely be an increase in the number of probable cases.

A probable case of COVID-19 is anyone who is not positive by a confirmatory laboratory test method (like a PCR or NAT test), but has met one of the following criteria:

  1. Positive test result from an antigen test;
  2. Symptoms of COVID-19 and known exposure to COVID-19 (such as being a close contact of someone diagnosed with COVID-19); or
  3. COVID-19 or SARS-CoV-2 is listed on the death certificate. Any positive test result by antigen testing is counted as a probable COVID-19 case because antigen tests are not as accurate as other diagnostic tests, such as PCR and NAT tests. In particular, antigen tests are less accurate at identifying positive cases – meaning, someone who tests negative but has symptoms or is a close contact of a positive case may need to be tested again.

A probable death due to COVID-19 includes anyone who is reported to have died from causes related to COVID-19. It also includes those who have a death certificate that lists COVID-19 disease or SARS-CoV-2 as an underlying cause of death or a significant condition contributing to death is reported to DHS but WEDSS has no record of confirmatory laboratory evidence for SARS-CoV-2.

In addition to motivating personal behavior change, these additions to the DHS COVID-19 data pages are intended to assist local decision-making on how to fight back against the virus in our communities. Our guidance document, Slowing the Spread of COVID-19: Mitigation Strategies for Wisconsin Communities, provides community leaders with strategies to combat the virus.

DHS plans to update the Disease Activity dashboard by 4 p.m. every Wednesday and the County Data page every day by 2 p.m.

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Steve Hanson

Steve is a web designer and recently retired from running the hosting and development company Cruiskeen Consulting LLC. Cruiskeen Consulting LLC is the parent company of Eye On Dunn County, and publication of this site continues after his retirement.

Steve is a member of LION Publishers and the Local Media Consortium, is active in Health Dunn Right, and is vice-president of the League of Women Voters of the greater Chippewa Valley

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