The End of the Pandemic in Wisconsin Is In Sight

Buoyed by vaccination success, all of the numbers for coronavirus in Wisconsin are headed in the right direction.

The Recombobulation Area is a weekly opinion column by veteran Milwaukee journalist Dan Shafer. Learn more about it here.


The vaccination timeline has been moved up. Reopening is being accelerated. The emergency facility at State Fair Park is shutting down

We are getting out of this. There’s a new dawn on the horizon. The end of the pandemic in Wisconsin is in sight. 

The success of the vaccines is exceeding expectations, and the Department of Health Services (DHS) said it could now have enough supply to vaccinate 80% of Wisconsinites by the end of June.

“Wouldn’t that be a wonderful 4th of July celebration, to hit 80% community immunity in the state of Wisconsin?” said DHS Secretary Julie Willems Van Dijk this week.

That does, in fact, sound wonderful. The reasons for hope are real. 

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Let’s take a look at some of the numbers that show us why.

The 7-day average for new cases in the state of Wisconsin dropped below 400. 

Covid hospitalizations dropped below 200, the lowest they’ve been since the first week of April 2020. They peaked on Nov. 17 at 2,277, with 456 people in the ICU with the deadly virus. 

Daily deaths have finally fallen to a 7-day average of six per day. On Dec. 7, that number was 61.

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Here in Milwaukee County, numbers are falling, too. 

The 7-day average for new cases is down to 64 (as of the last update on March 14). As recently as Jan. 9, that number was 444.

Hospitalizations are lower than at any point since the pandemic began, now at less than three per day. 

Days without covid deaths in Milwaukee County are becoming more and more frequent.

Pockets of the city are going weeks without reporting new covid cases.

We’ve spent so much time looking for ways to endure this immense tragedy over this past year that it almost doesn’t feel right to recognize signs of a breakthrough, but all signs are now pointing to that moment having arrived.

The vaccines are our ticket out of this, and Wisconsin’s successful vaccine rollout appears to be making a real difference.

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Vaccinations in Wisconsin continue on a best-in-the-nation level pace. The state has topped the list of percentage of supply used for much of the last month as the rollout has kicked into high gear across the nation (100 million shots in 58 days!). 

In Wisconsin, nearly 2.5 million doses of the vaccine have already been administered.

Perhaps most incredibly, more than 72% of those over 65 years of age have received at least one shot, and nearly 50% are fully vaccinated

This is truly a remarkable achievement for Tony Evers and the state of Wisconsin. It also speaks to something larger about covid and politics in Wisconsin for the past year.

This is the first time over the course of the pandemic that the Evers administration has had an extended runway to do anything without the Republican-controlled state legislature interfering. And he's achieving best-in-the-nation level success.

It's easy to forget how quickly things happened a year ago. Evers issued the first public health emergency on March 12. Robin Vos, Scott Fitzgerald and the legislature sued Evers to end the public health order on April 21

That was just 40 days. 40 days! That level of impatience seemed rushed at the time and just looks downright ridiculous now.

The first shipment of the vaccine arrived in Wisconsin on Dec. 14. As we all know, things moved slowly at first -- not just here, but everywhere -- but once concerns over supply subsided, the state has been getting shots into arms as fast as any state in the country.

Vaccine eligibility for Wisconsinites age 65 and older began on Jan. 25. That was 56 days ago. 56 days is the longest time of uninterrupted action Evers has seen at any point of this interminable year of obstruction and inaction from the Republicans running the legislature.

It then begs the question: What if this were the case the entire time? How many lives would have been saved? How much better off would our state be had we just let the people we elected to be in charge *actually be in charge*?

The facts don't lie. Given an opportunity for an extended runway to make a difference for the people of Wisconsin at a key moment of the pandemic, Tony Evers is delivering. And then some.

What we’re also seeing as a result of this vaccination success story is how it is also making a difference in the larger covid numbers in Wisconsin. 

In early March, nursing homes reported a 97% decline in new cases since vaccinations began. Those numbers for 65+ Wisconsinites have continued to drop, and are now at the lowest rate among any age group in the state. During the week of March 14, just 155 state residents over 65 tested positive for covid. 

Capping it all off, Wisconsin has had the lowest rate of new cases in the Midwest this past week, to go along with the 10th lowest rate of any state in the nation.

To be sure, things are not perfect. The pandemic is not currently over. People are still dying of this horrible virus every day. And within Wisconsin’s vaccine administration, there are troubling gaps, particularly among people of color who have long been underserved by the health care system — just 9.2% of Black Wisconsinites have received one dose of the vaccine compared to 23.8% of white residents. The hospitalization spike in Michigan is worth monitoring with a close eye. Variants in places like Brazil are troubling. Just because the end is in sight does not mean that this is over. We need to do what we haven’t yet at previous moments of declining cases and finish the job this time. 

But there is no doubt that things are improving, and that good things are happening. The worst, it appears, is behind us.

Soon enough, this pandemic will end in Wisconsin. It is time to start getting excited again. 


Dan Shafer is a journalist from Milwaukee who writes and publishes The Recombobulation Area. He previously worked at Seattle Magazine, Seattle Business Magazine, the Milwaukee Business Journal, Milwaukee Magazine, and BizTimes Milwaukee. He’s also written for The Daily Beast, WisPolitics, and Milwaukee Record. He’s on Twitter at @DanRShafer.


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