On the rise again

The total county COVID-19 case count as of Tuesday, Nov. 17, stood at 2,754--763 more than last week. The county death toll surged to 35 from 21 the previous week. Total recovered cases were at 1,911, which was 469 more than the previous week.

COVID-19 cases exploded over the past week, as Barron County Public Health reported 763 new cases through Tuesday afternoon.

“Yes, you are reading that correctly,” Barron County Public Health posted to its Facebook page. “EVERYONE needs to take immediate action to slow the spread.”

Thirty-five Barron County residents have now died of COVID-19, including 14 in the past week.

Tuesday, a much smaller number of 33 new cases were reported. The previous week that count was 72.

“Our positive cases rates might be leveling off,” said Dr. Amy Williams, a Mayo executive dean for practice, in an online media briefing Tuesday. “But they are higher than we want them to be.”

Williams said Mayo’s northwest Wisconsin clinics are having the biggest surge in the Mayo system. She said Rochester, Minnesota, and northwest Wisconsin are showing a 20% positivity rate in tests.

“Some other areas are down to the mid-teens, which may be a good sign,” she said.

Williams emphasized that by no means is it time to let up in trying to stop the spread.

“This is huge and we don’t have this under control yet. Our hospitals are really stretched. Some are full. We’re still in a surge. We’re most concerned about not being able to care for our patients because we won’t have enough space,” she said.

Mayo is treating some patients with the antiviral medication Remdesivir as well as monoclonal antibodies, which are laboratory-made proteins that mimic the immune system’s ability to fight off harmful antigens such as viruses.

Meanwhile vaccine manufacturers are racing to ready the preventative piece of the puzzle to boost herd immunity and ultimately end the pandemic.

“There is light at the end of the tunnel with a new vaccine,” said Williams.

Vaccines on the way

In a separate online media briefing Tuesday, two officials from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services briefed the media on imminent efforts to roll out a COVID-19 vaccine.

“We’ve been told to expect a vaccine before the end of 2020,” said Dr. Stephanie Schauer, Division of Public Health Immunization Program Manager.

Both Phizer and Moderna have shown through trials vaccines that are more than 90% effective against the virus.

DHS Deputy Secretary Julie Willems Van Dijk said applications to the FDA for vaccine approval are imminent.

But it will be months before vaccine production meets public demand.

“This is the biggest public health intervention our state has ever untaken,” said Van Dijk, who first worked on a pandemic action plan in 2006.

Schauer said, “At first we will prioritize health care providers and support staff, as well as long-term care staff.

The federal government has partnerships in place with nationwide pharmacies like Walgreens and CVS to get the first vaccines out.

“Many will ultimately be given through primary care providers, as well as community-based clinics,” said Van Dijk.

She said it is unknown if walk-up, or drive-through sites might be used to administer the vaccine.

Schauer said the state is seeking cold storage facilities to house doses of the vaccine, which may need to be kept at -80 degrees Celsius. She said dry ice manufacturers are well aware of the need.

At warmer temperatures the shelf life of vaccines diminishes, down to about 120 hours in a typical refrigerator, she said.

Schauer said Wisconsin has received $3.1 million in federal funding for a vaccine rollout, but much more will be needed to ensure adequate distribution.

Schauer said she would hope for something in the ballpark of 80% to achieve COVID-19 herd immunity. But she said that was a high goal, as influenza vaccination rates only hit about 42%.

“Right now, it’s important for people to get their flu shot,” she said.

No matter how soon or widely vaccines are disseminated, the message for now is clear: “We all need to continue to wear our masks, keep socially distanced, keep gatherings small,” said Van Dijk.