APPLETON, Wis. (WFRV) – The Fourth of July brought about a spate of COVID-19 cases across Wisconsin. Labor Day weekend is expected to be the same.
According to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, June 24 had the fewest diagnoses of COVID-19 cases so far this year, with just 30 reported statewide. On August 22, 255 confirmed cases of COVID-19 were diagnosed, the highest that the state had seen in four months.
The cases are not necessarily mild; hospitalizations have been going up, too.
“We did see an uptick in hospitalizations, especially in our hospital system,” ThedaCare director of infection Nathan Nobbe said. “We do expect to see another little bump probably, (following Labor Day weekend) here in cases.”
According to Covid Act Now‘s U.S. tracker, Wisconsin COVID-19 hospitalizations were at their lowest in 2023 at the beginning of July, at 1.4k per 100k people. That more than doubled by mid-August, with 3.2k per 100k.
“The most important thing people should understand is that if they’re feeling sick, they should stay home,” director of the Appleton Health Department Dr. Charles Sepers said.
Sepers said that while it is not necessary to wear masks or follow a strict six-feet-apart social distancing guideline this weekend, it is important to stay home if you have any symptoms to protect those around you.
“If folks aren’t staying home if they feel sick, we would expect there to be some (transmission of) cases,” he said.
Because most people take at-home COVID-19 tests and typically do not report their positives, Appleton and Wisconsin as a whole tests wastewater for the presence of viral gene copies of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
The Wisconsin Department of Health Services says that genetic material can show up in human feces before people experience symptoms or if they are infected but asymptomatic, so this can indicate whether COVID-19 is increasing in a community.
“We are seeing a moderate increase (in COVID-19) when we look at our wastewater data,” Sepers said.
Appleton has been experiencing moderate levels of COVID-19 in wastewater this year, but significant increases were found at the beginning of August, roughly 22 million gene copies per person per day, up from 12 million in June. The most recent sampling on Aug. 22 found 28.9 million gene copies.
A baseline has been established and compared to by the Appleton Health Department since the beginning of the pandemic to determine thresholds for very low, low, moderate, high and very high distinctions for concentration rates.
Sepers says that while cases are bound to rise this fall and winter, a mask mandate would not be necessary, though he cautions immunocompromised individuals to do so if their healthcare providers advise them to do so.
Meanwhile, a new monovalent COVID-19 vaccine is in the process of being approved by the Food and Drug Administration, at the same time when COVID-19 vaccine procurement, distribution and pricing will fall on the shoulders of the commercial market.
According to the FDA, the monovalent vaccine will specialize in targeting one strain of the virus, a subvariant of omicron. Bivalent vaccines target two strains of a virus, which is the kind that was used to protect people against COVID-19 in 2022.
Commercializing the vaccines means that pharmacies and wholesale providers will have to sort out how they ship and charge the vaccines after purchasing them from the manufacturers.
“It’s going to become commercialized, where pharmacies will actually be paying for it,” Smith’s Pharmacy owner and pharmacist Nic Smith said. “It’s going to be difficult to manage inventory. It’s going to be a lot trickier.”
The difficulties stem from the fact that once the vaccines are taken out of their “deep freeze,” they expire after ten weeks. Smith thinks that the vaccines will be shipped after being taken out of the deep freezer to the wholesale providers, who will then ship the vaccines to pharmacies, especially smaller ones like his, based in Little Chute.
He says that by the time he receives the vaccines, they will likely only be usable for seven weeks. Because of that, he plans on ordering them on a weekly basis.
The demand for the vaccine has significantly gone down, especially at Smith’s Pharmacy.
“The demand has dropped off a lot,” he said. “We went from having to do a couple hundred vaccines a day during the spike of the crisis to doing thirty a week, and not even that many at times.”
Smith imagines that there will eventually be a more concrete schedule for the administration of the COVID-19 vaccine, but he says that will all depend on the FDA’s guidelines for manufacturers.
“I anticipate it’s probably going to be an annual vaccine, but at this point (the FDA) is not saying anything,” he said. “They’re just doing the one dose, and it’s to be determined based on the dosing frequency.”