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March 18: Weekly Driftless Region COVID-19 update
COVID variants_031421

DRIFTLESS - Over the past week COVID-19, diagnoses statewide increased from 566,871 on Monday, Mar. 8 to 569,932 on Monday, Mar. 15. That is a statewide increase of 3,061 cases. The number of deaths increased from 6,481 to 6,536, an additional 55 deaths, according to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS).

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) has announced that in addition to the numerous resources available on the DHS COVID-19 vaccine page, Wisconsinites can now call (844) 684-1064 (toll-free) for personal assistance with their vaccine-related questions.

The new call center is equipped to help people find vaccine locations, answer medical questions related to the COVID-19 vaccine, and assist with registration, including but not limited to providers using the Wisconsin COVID-19 vaccine registry.

Breaking news – UK variant case in LaCrosse

The first of variant strain B.1.1.7 (UK variant) was identified in La Crosse County by genome sequencing by Gundersen Health System on Thursday, March 11, 2021. A thorough investigation was completed, but it is unclear where the person contracted this variant strain.

This variant, B.1.1.7, was first discovered widely circulating in England in November and December 2020 and is often referred to as the UK strain. The first case of the variant strain in Wisconsin was detected on January 12, 2021. To date, Wisconsin has identified 31 total cases of B.1.1.7. Researchers believe this strain spreads more rapidly and easily than the original strain of SARS-CoV-2. Studies are ongoing but at this time the CDC reports a likely increased severity with this strain based on hospitalizations and case fatality rates.

Vaccine distribution

Crawford County Health Department is maintaining a waitlist for everyone who is currently eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine in Wisconsin. The eligible groups include:

• Health care workers (paid & unpaid);

• Long-term care staff and residents;

• Police-fire-correctional institute personnel;

• Individuals age 65 and older;

• Education and childcare staff;

• Individuals enrolled in Medicaid Long-Term Care programs (IRIS, Family Care, Katie Beckett);

• 911 Operators;

• Utility & communications workers;

• Public Transit;

• Food supply chain workers;

• Non-frontline essential health care personnel;

• Congregate living facility staff and residents.

The following were added to the current eligible group this past week:

• Spiritual care providers;

• Restaurant workers.

On March 29, individuals age 16 and older who have medical conditions known to be associated with a greater risk of severe illness from the virus that causes COVID-19 will be eligible for the vaccine.  Crawford County Health Department plan to make our link available to this group beginning March 22nd.  Those eligible include:

• Asthma (moderate-to-severe) 

• Cancer 

• Cerebrovascular disease (affects blood vessels and blood supply to the brain) 

• Chronic kidney disease 

• COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) 

• Cystic fibrosis 

• Liver disease 

• Neurologic conditions, such as dementia 

• Obesity (body mass index [BMI] of 30-39 kg/m2) 

• Overweight (BMI of 25-29 kg/m2) 

• Pregnancy (Please follow-up with your OB-GYN prior to receiving vaccine)

• Downs syndrome 

• Heart conditions, such as heart failure, coronary artery disease, or cardiomyopathies 

• Hypertension or high blood pressure 

• Immunocompromised state (weakened immune system) from solid organ transplant, blood or bone marrow transplant, immune deficiencies, HIV, use of corticosteroids, or use of other immune weakening medicines 

• Pulmonary fibrosis (having damaged or scarred lung tissue) 

• Severe Obesity (BMI 40 kg/m2 or more) 

• Sickle cell disease 

• Thalassemia 

• Type 1 or 2 diabetes mellitus

Bram Sable-Smith, a WPR fellow based in the Wisconsin Watch newsroom, obtained data from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services showing that providers reported just 2,247 wasted or spoiled vaccine doses through February. That’s less than 0.16 percent of the more than 1.4 million vaccine doses administered statewide during that same period.

Minnesota cases

Last week the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) announced the state’s first confirmed COVID-19 case linked to the South African variant of COVID-19 known as B.1.351.

The Minnesota variant case was found by a commercial laboratory that runs specimens from Minnesota and other states. It was confirmed on March 10 through whole genome sequencing by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The person is in their 40s and is a resident of the Twins Cities area. The person became ill on Jan. 24 and the specimen was collected Jan. 29. While they had no recent travel history, they may have had exposure to someone with international travel, health officials said. The person was not hospitalized. An investigation is ongoing.

Health officials are watching the situation closely because the person’s specimen had an additional mutation to the virus that may make immunity from vaccine or prior infection less responsive.

While the confirmation of the variant came only this week, the Minnesota patient was notified of being positive for COVID-19 back in late January and MDH investigators interviewed the patient Jan. 31. During that interview, the patient was advised to isolate from others and have any close contacts observe quarantine, as per standard protocol.

The Department of the Interior applauded the passage of the American Rescue Plan (ARP) last week, a bold legislative package that will help address the public health and economic crises that continue to impact the American people.

The ARP makes an unprecedented investment in addressing wildlife-related pandemic concerns, targeting $105 million for the Fish and Wildlife Service to address wildlife trafficking, wildlife disease outbreaks, and wildlife inspections, and for research to strengthen early detection, rapid response, and science-based management to address wildlife disease outbreaks before they become pandemics and strengthen capacity for wildlife health monitoring.

COVID variants

As of Sunday, March 14, there are 4,858 cases of the three COVID-19 variants in the United States, up 1,725 over the past week. Those are the United Kindom (B.1.1.7), South African (B., and Brazil (P.1)  variants.

Six states now have all three variants circulating in their populations. Those states are Minnesota, Illinois, Florida, Maryland, New Jersey and Washington.

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 4,690 cases of the United Kingdom variant in 50 states and territories, an increase of 1,653 cases. As of Sunday, Mar.14, there are 65 confirmed cases of the B.1.1.7 variant in Wisconsin, up from 26 the Sunday before. There are 94 confirmed cases in Illinois, 251 confirmed cases in Minnesota, 616 confirmed cases in Michigan, and 25 confirmed cases in Iowa. Michigan remains second in the nation for UK variant cases in the last week, exceeded only by Florida with 738 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.

On March 4,the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) and laboratory partners identified a second variant strain of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, in Wisconsin. There is some evidence to suggest that this variant may affect how some antibodies respond to the virus. Preliminary evidence suggests that the Moderna vaccine may be less effective against this variant, but studies are ongoing.

There are143 cases of the South Africa variant in 23 states, including two in the state of Illinois. This is an increase of 62 cases. The other cases are 44 in South Carolina, 22 in Maryland,  20 in Virginia, 10 in Massachussetts, eight in Colorado, six in Connecticut, five in Washington, three each in California, Georgia and North Carolina, two in Florida, and one each in Minnesota, Michigan, New Jersey, Texas, New York, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Delaware, Nevada, Washington D.C., and Maine.

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 now 25 cases of the Brazil variant in the U.S. in nine states (an increase of 10) – 13 in Florida, two each in Minnesota, New Jersey and Illinois, and one each in Maryland, Washington, Ohio, Oregon, Arkansas and Oklahoma.

Crawford Countysaw two new cases and antigen-probable cases, increasing to 1,67. 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 10 cases in the last week, increasing to 1,857. The number deaths remained at 41.

Vernon County will continue testing every other Tuesday at the Old County Highway Shop, 602 N. Main Street, in Viroqua starting March 23. Subsequent dates will be April 6, April 20, May 4, May 18.

Due to expanding vaccine sites and an increase in eligible individuals, Vernon County Public Health will begin a new scheduling process beginning Monday, March 15th. 

Each Monday a JotForm Link will be posted on their Facebook page as well as Vernon County's website under COVID-19 information and remain open until Thursday at 4 p.m. They will gather names during this time period for those interested in receiving their first COVID-19 vaccine for the next week’s vaccine clinic. Their schedulers will call and/or e-mail those that signed up as interested in receiving the vaccine to schedule appointments based on the weekly allotment quantity.

If you do not get an appointment, you must continue to sign up each week until you get an appointment either with Vernon County Health Department or through another entity. They will not carry names over from week to week. To register, go to the link below to submit an interest form if you are currently in an eligible group.  If you are eligible March 29th or not until May, please do not sign up yet.

Richland Countysaw an increase of three cases, increasing to 1,296. The number of deaths in the county remained at 15.

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 15 cases in the last week,  increasing to 4,309. The number of deaths in the county remained at 31.

LaCrosse Countysaw an increase in new cases of eight, increasing to 12,299. The number of deaths remained at 80.

Grant Countyhas seen an increase of 18 cases in the last week, increasing to 4,716. The number of deaths in the county increased by one to 82.