The numbers are undeniable. And so is our need to act.
After a difficult week — where we saw 220 new confirmed positive cases in South Milwaukee from Nov. 6-13, by far our worst week since the start of the pandemic — we reported another 66 new cases of COVID-19 over the weekend and two more deaths. We have now more than doubled our number of positive cases in South Milwaukee in the past month.
Testing is up, but so is the percent positivity of those tests (now 23.3%). The vast majority of cases are symptomatic. Hospitalizations are at 7% locally, which means the virus has sent more than 80 South Milwaukeeans to the hospital since March. We’ve had 13 deaths.
The burden rate — an equalized measure of how active the disease is in a community — stood at almost 1,500 as of last week, far above what the school district and health department have identified as safe for a return to in-person education.
You can see our current data on the city website.
Yet the impact must be measured in more than positive cases. Businesses, families, friends … so many are struggling, but I am most concerned with those tasked with slowing the spread, and caring for the sick.
- Health care systems are nearing, at, or over capacity. They are running out of hospital beds — and healthy workers to staff them — in some parts of the state. Advocate Aurora Health Care reported concerns last week.
- Local health departments are increasingly overwhelmed, including ours. We and many others in the area have stepped back from contract tracing, which is so critical in slowing the spread of the virus. Instead, we are focusing on managing positive cases, asking those who test positive to alert their own “close contacts” about exposures and follow up.
- Testing resources are strained. I can’t thank the South Milwaukee and St. Francis Health Department enough for leading the effort to stand up the South Shore testing site, along with health departments in Oak Creek and Cudahy. But the facility is operating at an unsustainable level, and we are planning to discontinue it on Dec. 9. As it stands, the site is regularly running out of daily tests. Lines are long, and street traffic has become an issue. They started out expecting to conduct 300 tests a day, administered through the Wisconsin National Guard. They are now administering more than 800, more than 100 per hour.
These are all red flags. We can’t ignore them.
We all want to get back to normal, and I’m hopeful that will come as we head into 2021, especially with a vaccine.
But what happens between now and then? What happens in the next three, six or nine months? That’s where we all need to step up, if we’re going to slow the spread and back away from the brink.
Yes, it starts with us. We need to help ourselves.
It starts with personal responsibility. It’s the same guidance health leaders have been sharing for months, and it takes on even more importance as we head into the holiday season. Wear a mask. Socially distance. Avoid large groups. Practice good hygiene. Isolate if you’re sick.
No one is asking anyone to “live in the basement.” Rather, we all need to act smartly and listen to the words of public health professionals in living our lives reflective of a worsening pandemic.
That includes businesses and organizations. They must also do their part. Many are. Too many aren’t. A quick visit to Facebook, or a walk in the door, shows who is, and who isn’t.
We are in Phase B of health guidance. We need to follow it.
For businesses who aren’t taking this seriously, who are ignoring the recommendations, I am not patronizing them. If their employees aren’t wearing masks, or if I see other signs they aren’t doing right by public health, I’m leaving. If they’re promoting potential superspreader events that fly in the face of common sense, I’ll take my business elsewhere.
State and federal government leaders must also step up.
We are still waiting for the next round of CARES support, which will require Congress and President Trump to somehow work together even as he challenges the results of the election.
We also remain without a statewide plan for the weeks and months ahead. The legislature, given the power and encouragement to lead by the Wisconsin Supreme Court, still refuses to meet, even after the election. Lawmakers instead point fingers at Gov. Evers, who has been chilled by court rulings and the threat of further legal action from the Republican leaders with whom he is supposed to work. The Supreme Court heard the latest challenge to the mask mandate on Monday, days after Gov. Evers issued a series of “executive suggestions,” for fear of getting sued again.
Local leaders are doing their best in this environment.
Last week, all 19 Milwaukee County mayors and village presidents, along with the county executive, sent a joint letter to Gov. Evers and legislative leaders asking for help. We did the same with our federal lawmakers before that, asking them to address this reality: COVID-19 relief funding “expires” at the end of December, but the virus won’t.
The ask to Madison leaders was for …
- Increased testing capacity through development of a coordinated state and local strategic testing plan, including increased staffing at community testing sites and expanded testing availability;
- Increased contact tracing capacity, specifically aimed at our schools and targeted concentrations of positive cases in our communities; and
- Increased staffing for case management of the increasing number of positive cases in the state and region.
- We also ask you to commit to a specific amount of funding that will be made available to local governments through the Routes to Recovery program for community economic recovery.
And that’s just the start. We also need federal and state leaders to step up on a plan to further support our businesses, and help determine what’s next for our schools. For the latter, this measure passed by the South Milwaukee School Board and others is a good place to start.
Then there is delivery of the vaccine. This needs to be coordinated by federal and state goverments to get as many shots in arms as quickly and safely as possible, starting with those who need it most. In other words, let’s learn lessons from our disjointed approach to testing, which has been one of the biggest failures of this country’s pandemic reponse.
This patchwork approach — where actions can vary across community and county lines — has been a fundamental problem throughout the pandemic. From day one, fighting COVID-19 has demanded nationwide and statewide solutions, leadership to bring us together around a plan for fighting a common enemy and reducing illness and death.
We needed unity to flatten the curve. We had that for a few weeks last spring. Then division — sometimes ugly — took hold, along with the virus.
That is how new positive cases double in a month.
There is still time to do better. There is still time for all of us to step up, ahead of a vaccine, and after. There is still time to put public health and personal responsibility first. There is still time to save lives.
Let’s start now.