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Unvaccinated 10 times more likely to be in hospital with COVID-19 as omicron emerged in Wisconsin

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Nurse Megan Mandt

Nurse Megan Mandt works in UnityPoint Health-Meriter's intermediate care unit for COVID-19 patients in December 2020.

Wisconsin residents not fully vaccinated against COVID-19 were 10 times more likely to be hospitalized with the virus and 14 times more likely to die from it than those fully vaccinated in December, when the highly transmissible omicron variant became the dominant strain.

The hospital in Medford, like others, is feeling the strain, with no end in sight.

People not fully vaccinated were three times more likely to get COVID-19 last month than those fully vaccinated, the state Department of Health Services said Friday.

The data offer the first statewide look at the impact of vaccination against the omicron variant, which was first detected in the state Dec. 4 and became the dominant strain by the end of the month.

Omicron may not have been spreading widely in Wisconsin during the first part of December, and hospitalizations and deaths from it may not have been seen much until this month. But the new data suggest vaccination is still offering considerable protection against the variant, even as numerous breakthrough cases involving omicron have been reported nationwide.

In November, before omicron was detected, state residents not fully vaccinated were five times more likely to be infected, 11 times more likely to be hospitalized with it and 12 times more likely to die from it, the state health department reported last month.

According to the latest age-adjusted data released Friday, there were 1,573.2 COVID-19 cases, 18.5 hospitalizations and 3.6 deaths per 100,000 fully vaccinated people in December. Among those not fully vaccinated, there were 4,746.4 cases, 176.4 hospitalizations and 50.8 deaths per 100,000.

In November, there were 722.5 cases, 17.1 hospitalizations and 2.8 deaths per 100,000 fully vaccinated people and 3,348.2 cases, 184 hospitalizations and 35 deaths per 100,000 people not fully vaccinated.

The state doesn’t provide rates specifically for people who have received booster or additional doses of vaccine. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, unvaccinated people nationwide were five times more likely to get COVID-19 and 14 times more likely to die from it in October than those fully vaccinated. The unvaccinated were 10 times more likely to be infected and 20 times more likely to die from COVID-19 in October than those who had booster or additional doses, the CDC said.

Catching up

Meanwhile, Wisconsin reported 19,783 new cases of COVID-19 Friday, by far the highest daily total of the pandemic, eclipsing the previous record of 13,004 cases reported Thursday. However, the state health department said it has updated its data system to allow positive test results to be automatically imported.

“DHS expects COVID-19 data to be temporarily elevated over the next few days while this process occurs and back-logged cases are brought into the live system,” the department said in a statement.

COVID-19 hospitalizations appear to be easing up slightly in Dane County, where officials on Friday said 189 patients with the virus were in hospitals, including 38 in intensive care. That’s down from a record 202 COVID-19 patients, including 43 in ICUs, on Wednesday.

Statewide, as of Friday, there were 2,255 COVID-19 hospitalizations, including 485 in intensive care, down a bit from record highs of 2,278 hospitalizations and 488 in the ICU on Wednesday, according to the Wisconsin Hospital Association.


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State health officials caution that a recent move to an automatic data-importing process means the number of positive test results will be "temporarily elevated" while backlogged cases are brought into the system.

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