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Wisconsin health care officials urge patience as COVID-19 vaccine rollout slowly ramps up
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COVID-19 | WISCONSIN

Wisconsin health care officials urge patience as COVID-19 vaccine rollout slowly ramps up

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Wisconsin health care officials are urging Wisconsinites to be patient as the state continues to ramp up distribution of its limited supply of COVID-19 vaccines.

Of the nearly 50,000 doses of Pfizer vaccines received by the state this week, 1,010 had been administered to health care workers in 45 counties by the end of Wednesday, Department of Health Services Secretary Andrea Palm said in a media briefing Thursday. That’s up from 192 vaccinations on Tuesday.

Palm said the slow rollout of the vaccine likely has to do with the fragile nature of the Pfizer vaccine, which has to be stored at ultra-cold temperatures and has a limited lifespan once it is thawed out.

“Health care providers are understandably being very careful and making sure they are dotting all the i’s and crossing all the t’s before they start taking that vaccine out of cold storage,” Palm said. “What we all want more than anything is to maximize the number of doses that we have and make sure they get in arms and make sure we don’t waste any of that vaccine.”

The state still expects to receive 101,000 doses of a second vaccine by Moderna as early as next week. Moderna’s vaccine, which is expected to get FDA approval for emergency use by the end of the week, does not require ultra-cold storage.

A second batch of the Pfizer vaccine also is expected next week, but Palm said it may potentially be smaller than the 49,725 doses received this week. Both vaccines require two doses.

State officials have estimated it could take weeks before the state’s nearly 400,000 health care workers and roughly 57,000 nursing home residents are vaccinated. Other populations will receive priority after that, and it may not be until summer before those in the general public can receive a vaccine.

The state Department of Health Services reported 3,643 COVID-19 cases and another 59 deaths Thursday, bringing the totals to more than 448,000 cases and 4,255 deaths since the pandemic began.

Palm said overall COVID-19 testing numbers remain low and encouraged those who think they need a test to get one.

“As we have seen our daily case numbers go down we certainly are hearing from our local public health partners that they are not overwhelmed like they were in late October and into November and our surge capacity at the state level is able on a daily basis to handle all of the referrals that we are getting,” Palm said.

A state committee on Thursday recommended doling out COVID-19 vaccine doses to health care organizations based on their counties’ socioeconomic status and whether facilities are willing to immunize other workers such as medics.

A formula approved by the State Disaster Medical Advisory Committee, appointed by the state Department of Health Services, said facilities should get up to 10% more doses if they have a high Social Vulnerability Index, which includes socioeconomic status, minority population, housing, transportation and other factors.

Facilities should get up to 20% more doses for vaccinating others, such as workers at emergency medical services or community health centers, the committee said.

1 in 15 have antibodies

Also on Thursday, UW-Madison reported an updated study found 6.8% of Wisconsin residents had COVID-19 antibodies indicating previous infection in October to December, up from 1.6% in July and August. The latest round of testing from the Survey of the Health of Wisconsin included 1,070 people.

Gov. Tony Evers said Thursday that hopes the Legislature would pass a second package of coronavirus-related bills before the end of the year appears highly unlikely.

Asked about ongoing conversations between the Democratic governor and GOP leaders in the state Assembly and Senate, Evers said the matter became “much more complex” due in part to proposals from Senate Republicans. What’s more, incoming Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, R-Oostburg, has said Senate Republicans don’t plan to convene before January.

Without providing specifics, Evers said there is “general agreement” on some items proposed by the Senate, as well as some proposals unveiled last month by Assembly Republicans.

“There’s general agreement on a number of items, but we have to look carefully at the ones we don’t have specific language on and see what happens after that,” Evers said.

LeMahieu’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Contact tracing

Public Health Madison and Dane County, which moved to a “crisis model” of contact tracing nearly two months ago as new cases of COVID-19 soared, said Thursday cases have declined enough to resume regular contact tracing.

That means people who test positive are interviewed and their close contacts are notified of possible exposure, said Janel Heinrich, director of the city-county health department.

To further boost contact tracing across the state, Evers announced on Thursday a new mobile app that aims to notify contacts of individuals who test positive for COVID-19.

The free app, called WI Exposure Notification, is available for download in the Google Play store, while iPhone users can turn on the app in their phone's settings. It will launch Dec. 23.

Rather than use, collect or store GPS data or personal details, the new app uses Bluetooth technology to anonymously share signals with other smartphones using the app nearby. Anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 will receive a code that, once input into their phone, will send an anonymous notification to any other phones that have been in proximity while the individual may have been contagious. Bluetooth must be enabled for the app to work properly.

State Journal reporter David Wahlberg contributed to this report.

Fave 5: State government reporter Mitchell Schmidt shares his top stories of 2020

Choosing my five favorite stories of 2020 seems almost paradoxical.

This year has felt like one exhausting slog of pandemic stories, state Legislature updates and, oh yeah, a presidential election thrown in for good measure. Thanks to a split government, there's been no shortage of politically-charged stories here in Wisconsin and the partisan divide has, maybe unsurprisingly, felt as wide as ever throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

I don't know if "favorite" is the best way to describe them, but here are a few stories from 2020 that stood out to me:

Back in March, Gov. Tony Evers issued the state's first public health emergency in response to the then-emerging pandemic. At the time, Wisconsin had reported eight total cases of COVID-19.

As the pandemic progressed, positive cases and deaths climbed and state lawmakers battled over the appropriate response. In May, the Wisconsin Supreme Court struck down Evers' stay-at-home order, a decision that still resonates today with the state's coronavirus-related measures.

One story I was particularly excited about before I officially started working for the State Journal was the 2020 Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee. However, like most things this year, the pandemic drastically altered that plan.

In non-pandemic news, the state in October formally denied billions of dollars in state tax credits to Foxconn Technology Group — a story we managed to get before any other outlet in the state through records requests and sourcing.

Lastly, in November I worked on a story about how GOP-drawn legislative maps once again disproportionately benefited Republicans in state elections. Wisconsin is headed toward another legal battle next year when the next batch of 10-year maps are drawn.

Feel free to read my top stories below, or check out my other state government articles from this year, (by my count, there have been more than 300 so far).

Also, thanks to all the subscribers out there. This year has been challenging on so many people, so your support is so much appreciated.

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