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February 25: Weekly Driftless Region COVID-19 update
COVID variants 022321

Editors note: this story is updated as of Tuesday, Feb. 23, in the COVID variants section to reflect growth in numbers.

DRIFTLESS - Over the past week COVID-19, diagnoses statewide increased from 555,708 on Monday, Feb. 15 to 559,998 on Monday, Feb. 22. That is a statewide increase of 4,290 cases. The number of deaths increased from 6,166 to 6,284, an additional 118 deaths, according to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. The U.S. reached a grim milestone last weekend, now recording over 500,000 deaths from COVID-19 in the last year.

According to the DHS e-newsletter published on Friday, Feb. 19, in just two months Wisconsin is one of the best states in the country for administering vaccine and has achieved one million doses administered. We have also reached 40 percent of the 65 and older population who have received at least one dose of the vaccine.

On February 18, DHS announced the Wisconsin COVID-19 Vaccine Registry that will be launching March 1. The vaccine registry is a website that will connect people with available vaccine by letting them know where and when they can get vaccinated. The software will be rolled out in phases to local and tribal health departments, and DHS expects the vaccine registry will be available to all interested vaccinators in the state by April 1.

The Walgreens in Viroqua is one of the locations included in the initial roll out of the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program. To inquire about the availability of a vaccine appointment, go to

Due to the limited amount of COVID-19 vaccine available nationwide, the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program will start small and expand as vaccine supply increases. Wisconsin will launch the program with 178 Walgreens locations across the state, with the majority of sites located in underserved areas. For the first week, the federal government will directly ship 17,800 doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to the 178 Walgreens locations.

Last Friday, Gov. Tony Evers signed Assembly Bill (AB) 4, now 2021 Wisconsin Act 3, which would allow pharmacy technicians and students to administer COVID-19 vaccines under certain conditions.

The person has completed at least two hours in a course of study and training, approved by the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education or the board, in hands-on injection technique and the recognition and treatment of emergency reactions to vaccines;

• The person acts under the direct supervision of a pharmacist who has completed a course in study on topics relating to vaccination;

• The person holds a current certification in basic life support or cardiopulmonary resuscitation; and

• The person holds a certified pharmacy technician certification from either the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board or the National Healthcareer Association.

Readers visiting Wisconsin Newspaper Association member websites from Feb. 1 to 17 were asked whether face masks should be required in public places. Out of 960 verified respondents, 81 percent said they believed masks should be required in public, while 19 percent said it should be a personal choice.

Whitehouse update

On Friday, Feb. 19, the Whitehouse COVID Response Team provided the following briefing:

Whitehouse Coronavirus Task Force Team Leader Andy Slavitt reported that there were 2,000 vaccination sites that were impacted from massive power outages following a winter storm that impacted states in the south. Slavitt reported that workers at UPS and FedEx distribution sites were having problems getting to work, further complicating matters.

“Our first priority in this situation is the safety of staff, preserving the vaccines and communication with the states,” Slavitt said. “We will again begin to ship vaccine as soon as weather conditions permit, and we are working to clear the backlog as quickly as possible.”

Slavitt said that with hard work and collective effort, the effort will be caught up in the next week. He said they would be “asking more of our people, including acceptance of Saturday deliveries.”

He said that FEMA will be opening five additional vaccination centers – one in Philadelphia, and four in Florida. The vaccination centers will be able to vaccinate 12,000 people per day.

CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky reported that cases in the U.S. have experienced a 69 percent decline over the last five weeks. She said the seven day average was the lowest seen since mid-October. She said new hospitalizations are down 56 percent since the January 9 peak, but deaths have declined only modestly.

“That being said, with the new COVID variants, public health mitigation measures are now more important than ever,” Walensky emphasized.

Dr. Anthony Fauci provided an update on ongoing vaccine trials. Specifically, he addressed ongoing trials of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines pertaining to the safety of vaccinating children.

“We expect to have data to review for children aged 12-17 by this fall,” Fauci said. “For kids aged five or six to age 12, it’s going to take a little longer, probably by the first quarter of 2022.”

Fauci said that trials of the Johnson & Johnson (Janssen) vaccine have shown a 72 percent efficacy. The vaccine is expected to be reviewed by FDA on February 26. He said that review of the AstraZeneca and Novavaxx vaccines are also expected in coming months.

COVID variants

As of Tuesday, February 23, there are 1,932 cases of the three COVID-19 variants in the United States. Those are the United Kindom (B.1.1.7), South African (B., and Brazil (P.1)  variants.

Variant B.1.1.7 was first discovered circulating widely in England during November and December of 2020. Based on epidemiologic and modeling studies, researchers believe that this new strain spreads more rapidly and easily than the original strain of SARS-CoV-2.

There are 1,881 cases of the United Kingdom variant in 63 states and territories, an increase of 220 cases and five states/territories since Sunday. As of Tuesday, Feb. 23, there are six confirmed cases of the B.1.1.7 variant in Wisconsin in the Eau Claire, Waukesha and Milwaukee areas. There are 43 confirmed cases in Illinois, 43 confirmed cases in Minnesota, 210 confirmed cases in Michigan, and 10 confirmed cases in Iowa. Michigan has jumped up to second in the nation for UK variant cases in the last week, exceeded only by Florida with 433 cases.

Variant B.1.351 was first discovered to be circulating in South Africa in samples dating back to October 2020. According to epidemiologic and modeling studies, researchers have found that this new strain, similar to B.1.1.7, spreads more rapidly and easily than the original strain of SARS-CoV-2. It is not yet known if this variant has any impact on disease severity. There is some evidence to suggest that this variant may affect how some antibodies respond to the virus.

 There are 46 cases of the South Africa variant in 14 states, including one in the state of Illinois, first reported on Sunday, Feb. 14. This is an increase of five cases. The other cases are 21 (up from three) in South Carolina, 11 in Virginia, nine in Maryland, one in Texas, one in North Carolina, one in Washington D.C., two in Massachussetts,  two in California, one in New York, one in Tennessee, one in Nevada, one in Idaho, and one in Connecticut. 

Variant P.1 was first discovered in four travelers from Brazil who were tested at an airport near Tokyo, Japan in early January. According to epidemiologic and modeling studies, researchers have found that this new strain, similar to B.1.1.7, spreads more rapidly and easily than the original strain of SARS-CoV-2. However, this variant has unique mutations that may affect the ability of antibodies, generated through previous COVID-19 infection or through vaccination, to recognize and fight off the virus. 

There are five cases of the Brazil variant in the U.S. – two in Minnesota, one in Oklahoma, and now one in Florida, and one in Maryland. 

Crawford Countysaw five new cases and antigen-probable cases, increasing to 1,688. The number of deaths remained at 17.

The Crawford County Public Health Department will be holding COVID-19 testing events twice a week on Mondays, 11 a.m. – 12 noon and Fridays, 9-10 a.m. at the Crawford County Administration Building parking lot, 225 N. Beaumont Rd. Prairie du Chien, WI 53821. All tests must be scheduled in advance.  Call the Crawford County Public Health Department at 608-326-0229 to schedule an appointment.  There is no cost to participate.

Vernon Countysaw an increase of 16 cases in the last week, increasing to 1,819. The number deaths remained at 39.

Vernon County Health Department staff is currently working on identifying those that would like to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. To register, go to:

Richland Countysaw an increase of 19 cases, increasing to 1,280. The number of deaths in the county increased by one to 14.

Upcoming COVID-19 testing events in the county will be held as follows: Richland County Fairgrounds, 23630 County AA, Richland Center, Mondays 9 a.m.–1 p.m. and Thursdays 9 a.m.–4 p.m.

Monroe Countysaw an increase of 45 cases in the last week, going from 4,195 to 4,240. The number of deaths in the county increased by one to 31.

Juneau Countysaw an increase in cases of 19, growing to 2,865. Of the 2,865 cases, 548 of them are at the New Lisbon Correctional Facility, with no increase in cases there. The number of deaths in the county remained at18.

LaCrosse Countysaw an increase in new cases of 99, going from 12,034 to 12,133. The number of deaths remained at 75.

Grant Countyhas seen an increase of 16 cases in the last week, going from 4,628 to 4,644. The number of deaths in the county remained at 79.

Lafayette Countyhas seen an increase of 25 cases in the last week, increasing to 1,443. The number of deaths in the county remained at six.

Iowa Countyhas seen an increase of 17 cases in the last week, increasing to 1,838. The number of deaths in the county remained at nine.